In the early 1970 s a young woman named Gail Sheehy wrote a book called Passages. The book popularized the idea that during the life journey there are passage times. There is a sense that without passage and even crisis times, our life journey may remain unfulfilled. Passage times can be named, tracked and marked. Many of these times can be predicted. There is the potential that we can prepare for these passages, become more aware of resources available to sustain us in our journey through them, and can look forward to emerging on the other side stronger, healthier, wiser and, perhaps, even transformed.
Such passages are transition times. They are time of change. They may be a natural, normal and predictable part of the life journey generated simply simply by our maturational processes, such as birth and death. Or they may be stimulated by external events things that happen to us, sometimes by choice, sometimes not, such as marriage, divorce, job change, relocation, illness. They may be part of the natural ebb and flow of life, or precipitated by the unpredictable storms and conflicting currents of life.
By its very nature a passage, a transition time, has a duality to it that is unsettling. Something may be lost, left behind. But there is the potential that something new is just over the horizon, that the passage will lead to a transformed life. There is the possibility that something new may emerge, however calm or rough the passage. What is exciting and yet at times unsettling, is that the passage moves us into unknown territory. We choose to or are forced to push out from shore. And we know deep inside, whatever bravado we image to the world, that we are a frail craft on a large sea.
Our gospel passage today is literally about a passage, a transition time. It is characterized by a swirl of emotions and, clearly, an anxious uncertainty as to what the future holds. The horizon looks dark as the disciples look to their future.
Jesus, Master, Teacher, Friend, Mentor and hoped-for King, has been crucified. Despite all Jesus attempts to prepare the disciples for this eventuality, they are in shock. Despite the announcement, Alleluia, he is risen. Our Lord is risen indeed! the disciples have isolated themselves, locked themselves in out of fear of the unknown fear of what will happen to them as they live into a future thinking they are left abandoned without their leader. Huddled in fear in their room, all of a sudden they recognize the presence of Christ. How much this reminds us of the disciples earlier huddled in their boat in the middle of a storm, distressed and uncertain of their future despite the presence of Christ in the bow of the boat.
We are drawn into the post resurrection time. Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. But his disciples are in crisis. Their world has changed dramatically, due to an event outside their control. They have been catapulted into a transition they do not know how to handle. The trigger event is the crucifixion of their Master, the loss of their leader.
What can we glean from the remaining weeks of the Easter season as we watch the disciples struggle to comprehend just what does a dead yet resurrected Christ have to do with and in their lives now? What hope appears as we watch Christ respond?
Christ assures the disciples of his continuing presence in their lives. Even the doubter can come to believe that the Savior is a present reality in his life.
Christ overcomes all barriers that appear to separate the disciples from Christ s calming and sustaining presence. Walls, locked doors, even a sealed tomb cannot separate the disciples from Christ s love.
Christ promises the coming of the Holy Spirit to strengthen the disciples and to be a continuing resource to them. Christ s promise will be fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit will descend upon them and fill them with the power to go forth in the name of Christ.
The disciples are called into a new life of service and love in Christ s name. They have been called to love one another as Christ loved them. The nets some left behind when they responded to the call to follow Christ are rewoven by the power of Christ s love. The network of a community formed out of that love will sustain and nurture them and others in the future in the work that Christ has prepared for them to do. The craft they saw as so frail before is to be enlarged, strengthened and sent forth over the waters, moved by the breath, the ruah, of the Holy Spirit.
We here at St. James s are blessed with the opportunity to serve as a vessel and a conduit of Christ s love and of Christ s sustaining presence in the lives of so many people, people of all ages and life stages, embarking on passage times in their lives. Let s take a look at recent and upcoming events happening within our faith community.
Yesterday we had three weddings. Three couples asked for God s blessing and, graced with that blessing, each couple embarked on a new life together. They were supported by a network of love. They were surrounded by the love of family and friends, including many of you here this morning their faith community witnessing the marriage vows and committing to be a support to the couple in their life together. Why do individuals get married? Perhaps it is out of a deep and abiding sense that life together will be more abundant than life alone. By God s grace and with the love and support of this community, may it be so.
This morning thirteen of our young members of St. James s will mark their transition from childhood to adulthood. They enter a time of passage. Its beginning is marked by a special ritual here today within this faith community. This ceremony occurs in the presence of God. In God s presence and with us as witnesses, each of them will affirm the baptismal vows made on their behalf when they were children. This community will commit to supporting them and carrying them forward on their journey to adulthood. A visible symbol of the transformation from their old life as children towards a new and emerging identity as adults will be visible to us all as they leave their seats next to their parents to join their peers in the pews across the aisle. They are called by God to see and conduct themselves in a new way. Their parents and the rest of us are called to be present to them during this passage and to see them, not as they have been, but as they are becoming.
Next Sunday is a day full of baptisms, confirmations, reaffirmations and receptions. Approximately sixty people, including babies, teenagers, young and older adults will be part of these rituals that mark new beginnings. These rituals mark the passage towards new life within the body of Christ and within this community of faith as it seeks to love and serve God. Again, this faith community will commit to supporting all those presented in their journey.
Some events, some of the rituals that will take place here in the future, will be more heavily laden with a sense of loss even as life is celebrated. These rituals mark the death of a loved one. It may be hard to sense something new emerging from such a passage. But it is in those times as the faith community comes together in great love and with a deep desire to sustain those who grieve that we all discover a renewed and abiding sense of God s love. And we sense God s grace-filled presence breaking through even the final barrier, death. The passage is difficult for those left behind but we are given hope as we sense our loved one moving towards a new horizon and towards arms outstretched waiting to receive them.
It is said that boats in the New Testament are often used as symbols of the church. If you look at the architecture of many churches, the ceiling of the sanctuary is shaped like a boat. Although the ceiling of our sanctuary is not physically shaped like one, I believe that this community of faith here at St. James s is called to be like a sturdy and well-crafted boat. Even like an ark that protects, sustains, and carries life that will renew the world around us. I believe that we are called to carefully, intentionally and lovingly transport people during the many passages of their life. That we are called to carry the faithful towards that horizon that God has planned for all of us. That we are called to support folks as they traverse both the calm and stormy seas in their lives. That we are called to a continual awareness that Christ is ever present in the bow. I believe we are called to have our sails ever poised to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit that we may move in the direction that God, our Captain, has laid out for us. God has booked passage for all of us. Let s embark and set sail.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, let us go forth, this day and in the years to come. By God s grace and moved by the Holy Spirit, may we do so.