This essay was written as part of the outreach program of The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington to continue to minister to our community in this time of uncertainty and “social distancing” that requires not meeting in person. For essays by my friends and colleagues go to “Calming the Storm.”
This past Sunday, Father Hendree preached about Jesus’ promise that we would not be left orphaned, that he would not leave us alone and without guidance or comfort. This encouragement from Jesus comes on the night of his final evening meal with his disciples before he takes up the cross to die for humanity. This is right before, in other words, his friends are about to endure some of the greatest grief and anguish and uncertainty that they will ever know. In that context, Jesus says to them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
That is, perhaps, one of our greatest fears, isn’t it? Even if we ourselves grew up with loving and caring parents, even if we have never been abandoned ourselves, at times we all feel utterly alone. It is ironic, that we often feel most alone in a crowd or while in the midst of great activity. Many of my students who struggle emotionally say they are feeling alone and isolated even when they have a roommate, an academic advisor checking on them, and family texting and calling. They still feel that they are isolated with their feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
Now we are now into our third month of “safe at home” (I only know that it is the tenth week because I had to look it up) and those feelings of isolation have been matched by the literal isolation that circumstances require of us to keep everyone safe. Some of us are living alone, many are with family members, but all of us have had drummed into us the notion of being “socially distant” from one another. The phrase really should be “physically distant,” as we all know. The goal is to be at least six feet from other people, but the phrase “socially distant” goes directly to the heart of the matter when one feels (and is) bereft of community. Covidtide has made us all aware of what so many of us feel regularly and all of us feel at times.
There are so many things that can bring us such feelings of isolation and abandonment. It can be the loss of a family member or the loss of a job. A valued relationship might break down and leave us feeling as if we cannot trust anyone. Or illness might overtake us and force us to walk a dark path that, no matter how many friends, family, and caregivers surround us, we must journey for ourselves. It is the inward and internal loneliness that is the real demon. So it is that there, within each us, the Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter, has come to dwell.
As our governor is fond of saying, “We will get through this. We will get through this together.” In a very real way, this is also Jesus’ message to us about all of life. Through all the ups and downs, hardships and joyful moments, God is present with us and together, we will come through it all and, at the end, we will be reunited in Glory.
It was just a bit earlier in John’s Gospel that Jesus also promised us the means of getting through this, of overcoming the weight of the world. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace of Christ is not the sort of peace politicians and diplomats rightly work for. It is not the cessation of violence or hardship, as much as those are the fruit of the Spirit at work in our lives. The peace of Christ is the knowledge that in spite of the violence and hardship, in spite of the suffering and grief, we are secure and safe in our Savior.
The peace of Christ means that although death remains a part of this life, it is no longer the final punishment of this world but simply the beginning of our full, complete, and eternal life. The peace of Christ is the knowledge and conviction, the sure hope, that “death has been swallowed up in victory” and that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. And nothing will ever separate us again from those we love.