The time is short.
Good byes must be spoken.
The meaning of their togetherness needs to be named.
Provision must be made for the ache of absence soon to settle on their souls as they part to go their own ways.
All that has been, all they have meant to each other weighs heavily on the chest.
Breath comes shallow and short.
Already he mourns their nearness, and wonders how they can survive his departure.
There must be some way they can stay close to them, some way he can live in the lives of those he has loved, and loved to the end
For, good bye is too hard, too final, to bear.
He returns to the Loving Mystery he calls Father, and they must carry on.
But how, without him?
The parallels between Jesus departure and our own comings and goings are too thick to miss.
Soon, with joy and grief an ending comes, and with each ending a new
beginning. Would to God that our life could be simple with just and ending or just a beginning. Feeling two things at once (only two) is too much.
But such is the nature of the time to which we must be true.
Graduates go to lives, mission and ministry for which they have hoped and hurt, labored and struggled. Good byes break the heart as you try to say 'thank you' to souls that saved and loved you, souls that kept you and your hopes alive. You go to places and faces that hunger for your presence, even as you will yearn for faces no longer near.
Others head for summers of Clinical Pastoral Care, which will melt and mold the mettle of your souls, testing and strengthening while revealing the flaws and weakness you fear to acknowledge even to yourselves.
Others prepare for a year of internship, eager to get on with it, ready
for a learning which does not require expense trips through the bookstore and fewer (you hope) early-morning marathons of reading Tillich or
writing three papers before dawn.
You will learn and grow and return here, finding the place much changed by people who won't know your name. Still others will stay and study, work and grow, receiving a bevy of new faces and stories in the fall, all which will join with yours to become part of the story of this place, a tiny part of the great story of the people of God in Jesus Christ, a people more loved than they can know.
And all of us, whether going or staying, face one kind of transition or another, the going-outs and coming-ins of a holy people traveling paths
untrodden, through perils unknown, on a venture of which we cannot see the ending, a pilgrimage which will startle, scare and delight us in ways beyond our imagination, moving us to depths of anger, fear, love and joy which we thought were beyond us.
And how will you do this; how shall each of us go on our particular ways? How, when you are losing ready access to some of those who have made it possible for you to breathe deeply the air of God's love and freedom?
Listen: "Love on another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."
Love as Jesus loves.
And how is that??
He doesn't love as we love ourselves. That's good news. Most of us are not very good at loving ourselves. Many of you are far more graceful with another's failures than you are with your own.
Love as Jesus loves … you.
Jesus loves fully, completely. He loves from impenetrable depth soul. Knowing he holds nothing back, recognizing this will only magnify his pain.
He loves humbly, seeking some small physical sign of intimacy that touches both soul and body with the meaning of all he is and of the Holy Mystery he bears, the One beyond all naming
He loves even when he knows those he loves will betray and turn from the heart of friendship he has always offered.
He loves with assurance,
Certain that such love is the breath of holiness;
Certain that is the fulfillment of his mission, of his being and of all human being; Certain that is this love manifests eternal divine glory among the doings of human souls;
Certain that this love reveals the face of God.
He loves in deeds not only in words.
He loves knowing that loving to the end of life and to the end of suffering is the true completion of his life and of the fulfillment of every human life. For this he was made, and so were you.
He loves, knowing even though he knows loving that every true love bears a cross on its heart.
He loves knowing that the love he lives is the eternal wonder of God abiding in him as he abides in that Holy Love who is God.
He loves, and in the loving he knows the Holy One as near as his own breath, as palpable as the beating of his own heart.
We love as our brother Jesus loves … us. For, it is you who are loved from eternity to eternity. It is you who are loved and loved to the end that is the cross of Christ. It is you whom the Holy Mystery of God loves completely and certainly in the risen Christ, who will attend and envelop your every breath and step from this place onto ever more.
Love as I love, Jesus says.
Why? Because in the love you live and give to others you, like him, know and taste God.
You know and glorify God in the love you share and express.
This love, given and received, is the continuing presence of the risen Jesus
who brings comfort, consolation and assurance of abiding presence as we prepare to celebrate our transitions and mourn the ache of absence.
We will know this loving presence wherever we go and whatever happens to us, whether our service brings attention and accolade or rejection and pain, and it will bring all that and more
Love as I love, Jesus says.
To what does it invite us amid our transitions?
Love remembers and acts.
It sends e-mails to those who kept our souls alive when we hurt and feared our failures.
It picks up the phone and calls in moments when words of encouragement and comfort need to be spoken.
It reaches out just to learn how things are.
It remembers birthdays and anniversaries, giddy laughter and all-nighters, and evenings at Freebies and Jimmy's, and it finds ways to celebrate those memories even at a distance.
Love doesn't grow too busy to say repeated 'thanks yous,' to speak our
soul's gratitude, to share blessings and woes with those who have been the arms and flesh of Christ to us in this place.
Love does those things even when we are far from each other.
It lives in deeds of self-giving and words of thanks in which we know the love of the One who called us here in the first place, and who will never leave us to face our perils alone.
Eight days ago I sat with an old friend, Tod. He is one of those who kept me from destroying myself when I was 15, and 16 and through my early 20s. I do not exaggerate.
As adults we stayed loosely in contact, meeting occasionally, sending prayers and heart-felt messages as we each went our ways.
Tod's way has been highly successful and particularly painful.
He and Marj lost one child to cancer, a grandchild soon after birth, and a business to an unscrupulous partner. Tod has struggled with illness for decades.
Now after 30 years of chronic liver disease, Tod awaits a phone call for a transplant, that may never come.
And I go to visit. I sit with him in the morning, my hand on his knee as he weeps, waiting for the narcotics to kick in to make the pain bearable for a few hours.
I don't know which of his tears are from the physical pain which never totally leaves him and which flow from the injury to his pride that I see him reduced to his current state where he can barely walk and is far removed from the thriving business and community to which he has devoted himself.
After a few moments, he dismisses me because he wants time alone to pull himself together.
And he does. The drugs kick in, his eyes are no longer sunken dark holes, and he steps slowly to the porch to join me.
At lunch I apologize to him for all the times over the decades I failed to come and spend time with him during the earlier stages of his illness.
"Yea," he says, "It always kind of pissed me off too." And he smiles that sardonic grin I first saw almost 40 years ago.
And both know. We love each other beyond any words we are able to speak at that moment without collapsing in a puddle of tears.
In that moment, we know we are caught up in a love far greater than our own.
And I know again why Jesus says, "Love as I love."
For in the loving we know the One Love whom we need to live.
As you go your way, don't miss this. Don't forget. Remember. Find ways to love each other and the many more whom you will know on your great journeys wherever they take you.
For in that loving you will know the One you most need.