I had to smile when I read the scripture for today.
On this Sunday when we recognize the graduates among us, I had to smile when I read the scripture from the book of Acts. For it turns out, today is graduation day for those first disciples. In a very real way, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James together with certain women are all turning their tassels today.
They had gone out to the Mount called Olivet, a sabbath’s walk from Jerusalem. The resurrected Jesus is with them, not surprisingly since he has been so much of these past forty days. After that first shocking encounter on Easter morning, they have now grown accustomed to having him with them again.
I bet they had the sense that something special was going to happen today, that Jesus was up to something, but I bet they had no idea that what he had planned was in essence their graduation — graduation from followers of Jesus to living witnesses of the Way of God. So they ask him, “What’s the plan?” “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus responds that what God is doing is not of concern to them right now. What is of concern to them is what they now will do. The time has come for them to step out from behind Jesus and to step into what now will be. And as if to underscore his point, while they are watching a cloud comes and takes Jesus out of their sight! And they are stunned, left staring up into the heaven, wondering, perhaps like many graduates, “What in God’s name they are to do next?”
How many of us have found ourselves in a similar position? How many of us have found ourselves in an unexpected graduation of sorts — found ourselves in the midst of a disorienting change or transition? Is it a graduation from a full house to an empty nest? From caring for your kids to also now caring for your aging parents? Are you graduating from health to grappling now with disease? Graduating from work that once brought you joy but now drains the very life out of you.
I can remember as if it were yesterday, how absolutely bewildered I felt after my own graduation from college. I can remember vividly, when taking the green line downtown to a temp job that I was working on Beacon Hill, I looked at all the other people on the train and thought that they all seemed to have gotten the memo while I did not. They all seemed to know what they were doing and where they were headed. While I, in comparison, had no idea really what I was doing. I remember feeling absolutely befuddled at how exactly real life worked. How do you figure out how to make enough money to pay for what you need and how do you even figure out what you really need? It was all a huge mystery that every one else seemed to have figured out that day on the train, except me.
And that night I called my mom and asked her how this “real life” thing worked and she laughed and said I would figure it out. But her belief in me made me doubt her judgment and left me feeling more unmoored than ever!
So I can really empathize with the disciples that day. I can empathize with that feeling of now being on their own, with no one but themselves in charge, with the responsibility of figuring it out for themselves. While it is customary to wish graduates “Congratulations,” if we are honest about it, maybe we should also speak a word of consolation. For graduation can be deeply unsettling.
In liturgical time, we will soon be graduating into a season called ordinary time. The paraments will change to green and will stay so until Advent come round again in December. But in a very real way, we the real time in which we live is also ordinary time. For we live between that time when Jesus walked on this earth and then time when it is believed he will come again. In this ordinary time of our lives, how are we to make our way? I even find myself envying those disciples who lived so long ago. For a while at least they had the flesh and blood Jesus in front of them and all they had to do was literally follow him. All they had to do literally was do what he was doing. As he fed the hungry, they did so too. As he healed the sick, so too did they. As he freed the oppressed, they too joined in. But in this ordinary time, with the flesh and blood Jesus now gone from us, we have to figure things out for ourselves. We like the disciples that day, have to figure out for ourselves how to make our way in the world.
Or do we, for in the days and month after that day when Jesus ascended, something extraordinary started to happen. As the disciples remembered and did all that Jesus had taught them, as they lived into his example for them, they began to see and to experience something of the living God coming alive in their community. With the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon them, sharing their life together in the name and way of Jesus, something of the living God come alive in them and shine out through them. They literally were becoming the body of Christ in the world — speaking, and living, healing and sharing, spreading the good news of God love. They were becoming, like Jesus, God’s love incarnate in the world. They were finding that they could indeed be the community that Jesus was counting on to be his presence in the wake of his absence. (21:15-17).(from www.working preacher.org)
And as they experience this becoming of the body of Christ in the world in and through them, they remembered what he said that night when they were gathered in that upper room. They remember that after they shared in the bread broken and in the cup for forgiveness, Jesus turned to God in prayer. And he prayed the words that the Gospel of John bring to us today. And in that prayer, Jesus makes an extraordinary assertion.
Jesus says “I have been glorified in them!” Glory is to be understood as radiance, presence shining out, something of God that is revealed. As Jesus glorified God, shore forth something of God, Jesus is saying these disciples are glorifying him, shining something of him out into the world. As they are in Christ and as Christ is in God, God is in them and God’s radiance is to be seen now in them. It is as if the disciples, have become in some way a part of communion of God, part of the holy trinity or perhaps it is now a quadrinity to be more accurate, if that is even a word.
Could that be the same for us? I mean it is terrifying but terribly exciting thing to think about. Instead of each having to try to make our way in the world. Instead of trying to figure it out for ourselves, what if we saw that the Way has been shown to us and that the purpose of Jesus physical life was to show us and to help us figure out what real life looks like. What if honest to goodness, we really are the body of the living God? What if we really are to be God’s love incarnate in the world?
I remember on my installation, Rev. Matt Fitzgerald gave a reflection and in it he said this remarkable thing. He said that if someone wondered whether God was real, they should be able to answer that question by looking at the church. We are the church we are called to be, we are living the Way of Jesus, when the radiance of God love shines through us, when people look at us and can see something of the glory of God.
Graduation, as you know, has another name. Graduation is also called commencement. Ordinary time is our commencement. Our beginning. Ordinary time it turns out is the most extraordinary of times because ordinary time means our time. It is our time, right now, right here not tomorrow not the day after that but right now to locate ourselves within the life of God. It is our time to see and experience that life lived with and for each other and life lived with and for our God is to incarnate Jesus, incarnate love now. Jesus showed us the way and then trusted us to live it, to enflesh it as he did, to radiate it as he did.
What an extraordinary time in which we life, an extraordinary time to be church. Let today and tomorrow and the tomorrows beyond that be forever our commencement of our living the living presence of God. Thanks be to God who entrusts God’s self to our living. Amen