Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sermon for Sunday, May 12, 2013 (Easter VI) John 17:20-26 “Love is Stronger than Death”

The image burned itself into my consciousness when I saw it earlier this week. A man and woman locked in an intense embrace. His face turned toward the camera, a single dark red tear trailing down his cheek. Her body arched, an elegant swan-like neck extended and her face blocked from view, and yet the power of that arching neck carried down the length of her body as she pressed against her partner. Her red sari, with the gold embroidered edge, rippling in folds around her. Both of them the color of the dove-gray dust, encased in shrouds of debris. They had died together, in each other’s arms,  in the collapse of the building in which they worked in Bangladesh.

Love is stronger than death.
Another image, equally unforgettable. An ancient icon, painted in Russia almost a millennium ago. The body of Jesus is being lowered from the cross. His mother embraces his upper body, which folds in on itself in its lifelessness. The tenderness in her cradling gesture is unmistakable as the men struggle to remove him from the instrument of his death.

Love is stronger than death.

It seems to make no sense…love is marked by touch and talk and feeling and interacting with our beloved. We embrace, we cry, we laugh together, we push our beloved away in anger, we cradle our child, we smell our beloved’s perfume, our baby’s sweet warm baby-powder scent. That’s love. It’s an emotion that is embodied, it’s part of our very bodies. And death is the end of our bodies, isn’t it?

But love is stronger than death.

And that is what Jesus is saying in the Gospel of John today.

He says “I love all of these whom you have given to my charge. I love them, and because of that, they have come to know your divine love. And I will love them all, always.”


Love is stronger than death.

Jesus’ human body died. We heard that story of the Good Friday that was not good, the day when Jesus was crucified and died.  But after three days in the place of the dead, he rose again, and we heard that story of resurrection on Easter Sunday. And, in recent weeks, these days of the Easter Season have been the story of Jesus’ return after the resurrection for his final instructions to his disciples to continue the work he began. This past Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, when Jesus left for the final time, going to be with his heavenly father. We would not see him again on earth until the last days, the second coming.

End of story, right? Sure seems that way. Jesus was here among us. He died. He rose again. He came back for a little while. He ascended into heaven. Gone. The story ended.

But love is stronger than death.

If it were not so, would we not be unmoved by the photograph of the man and woman locked in a final embrace amidst the debris in Bangladesh? If it were not so, would we not share Mary’s heartbreak as she embraced the poor broken and lifeless body of her son?

Love is stronger than death. Jesus’ love for us was so great that he died to redeem us from our sins. His love was so great that he came back, just to make sure that the disciples were still on task. His love was so great that, even when he ascended to heaven, he said, “I love you. I’ll be back later.”

Love is stronger than death.

I cannot begin to list the stories I’ve been told by parishioners who have lost a dear one and who feel their presence, even to the point of believing they have seen the beloved one. My father died when I was 17. Two years later, during a time of turmoil, I was walking down the street and saw him walking ahead of me. I was utterly convinced it was my father and just seeing him calmed my heart.

Whether it was my father or someone who looked and walked like my father was irrelevant. At a time when I needed to sense his protection and love, I felt his presence.

Neuroscientists would have a scientific explanation for this experience. I’d say something a little different, not disagreeing with them, but viewing it through my own lens.

Love is stronger than death.

When I needed him, my father was there. Perhaps it was an idealized view in my own mind, a neurological or psychological phenomenon, because I missed him and needed him. It didn’t matter. The love I felt from him and for him in the moment transcended the fact that he had been dead and buried for two years. Love is stronger than death, and it supports us in ways beyond number.

Jesus’ love for us, a love beyond our imagining, saves us, heals us, encourages us, comforts us. He promises the continuation of that love until the end of time. He says “surely I am coming soon!” And in the time when we feel most lost, most in need, we sense his love, the constancy of it, the presence of it.

We are approaching the end of the retelling of the story of Jesus’ history and his work on earth. Our bishop reminded us at this week’s clergy conference that next week, Pentecost, is the close of Jesus’ story. Then, something shifts in our work in church between Pentecost and Advent…it is now time for our story, our response to what God did. It becomes a time of doing, after all that God has done.

We can only do that, the praying, the discerning, the working, because of the love that Jesus showed us and taught us. And if the love ended when Jesus ascended to heaven, we’d be lost.

But it didn’t end.

It doesn’t end.

Love is stronger than death, and we, the people of Jesus, are marked forever as  ones who received that love. Thus marked, we are the ones who are intended to share that love. Not a transitory love, not a mere embrace. A forever kind of love. A love that is stronger than death.

Love God. Love your family. Love your neighbors. Love your enemies. Love those whom you don’t understand. Love those whom you don’t know. Love them all with a love stronger than death. Love them with a love that is eternal life. Love them with Jesus’ love.


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