Father Nicholas Lang
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Father Murphy walks into a pub in Donegal, and says to the first man sitting at the bar, "Do you want to go to heaven?" The man said, "I do Father." "Then stand over there against the wall." Then he said to the very next man at the bar, "Do you want to go to heaven?" "Certainly, Father," was the man's reply." Then stand over there against the wall," said the priest.
Then he walked up to O'Toole who was busy sipping his pint and said, "Do you want to go to heaven? O'Toole answered "No, I don't Father. The priest couldn’t believe it. “You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?" O'Toole said, "Oh, when I die, sure. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now."
I’m sure we all can relate. Heaven is a wonderful place to be but not just yet, thank you very much. We are attached to the life we know here on planet earth and, as bad as things get—and they do get pretty ghastly at times—most of us, like O’Toole, aren’t ready to ascend any time too soon.
The Gospel is in advance of the feast of the Ascension which occurs this Thursday, the day when Jesus ascended back into heaven. It is a part of the long discourse Jesus gave to his disciples on the night before he died giving them notice that he will be leaving them and will send the Holy Spirit to guide and support them when he is gone. Hence the paradoxical line “I am going away, and I am coming to you.”
Today is also “Rogation Sunday,” rooted in the Latin "rogare" which means to beseech, and it was on this day that the church asked God's blessing for the seed, for the soil, for those who labor in the fields and for all of God's creation.
Now I’m going to digress a bit so that I can acknowledge what has been a week of tragedy in our country and right here in Connecticut. Several years ago, in delivering her traditional Christmas address, Queen Elizabeth II referred to the previous year as an “annus horribilus”—a horrible year. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve witnesses a horrible week and then some.
How do we make sense of the violent attack on ten African-Americans, almost all of them senior citizens, who were just doing their food shopping at a local grocery store or the folks of Asian ethnicity who were in their church simply worshiping and coming together in peace. How do we make sense of the tragic stabbing of a 17-year-old Shelton student who had so much to live for or the 16 year-old who is charged with his murder—two teen lives changed forever and what huge losses to their parents, siblings, family and friends.
Then this news Friday evening: Three high school graduation ceremonies ended with shots fired in separate incidents in Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee within the span of 24 hours, another sobering example of gun violence impacting everyday lives, including that of teenage students. After students crossed stages to receive their diplomas, chaos ensued with gunfire. At least one person was killed and seven others injured in collective shootings that resulted in the arrest of a 17-year-old in Tennessee.
There is so, so much pain to go around and that is just the tip of the iceberg both locally, nationally and globally. How we must want to cry out in the words of this morning’s psalm, “May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.”
But isn’t that why we come here? Why we gather as a community to support one another in times like these? It’s all about our faith and our doubts, our dreams and disappointments, our hopes and our fears, our questions and our struggles, our laughter and our tears, our blessings and our losses and it’s all about who walks the journey with us and those with whom we travel. It is through our ministry together as God’s people that we receive the strength to walk the journey.
Wayne Teasdale, writing in The Mystic Hours says, “The world is divided enough by religions, culture, languages, ethnicities, tribes and nations. Even more profound are divisions between the haves and have nots, the educated and the uneducated, those whose hearts are open and those whose hearts are closed. These crushing divisions seek to isolate people and rob the world of peace.
The challenge is to realize our essential interdependence, our fundamental need for one another. The key to social peace and community, indeed the key to the spiritual life, is remembrance: of God, ourselves, one another. Only when we remember our inescapable relatedness to one another will peace become a reality.”
So today we remember that Jesus wants to bring us a peace that the world cannot give. We remember that we are intrinsically related to one another as God’s beloved ones and that each of us is a blessing for the other. We remember that God’s gracious abundance supports and sustains our lives. And we remember that God is ever abiding with us, that God has moved in with us.
The great preacher, Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor, says, “When God and Jesus move in with us, apparently, they make lots of keys—keys for the Holy Spirit, keys for the other disciples, keys for all kinds of indwelling cousins in Christ. Coming and going, we learn to recognize each other, and to call upon each other for everything that people who live together do.”
And until we join O’Toole and others in heaven, maybe that’s the best of heaven we can hope for just now.