Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Sorry for the long hiatus. These past two semesters, I had classes on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. Thursday is my usual day for posting to this blog and for writing sermons. I had time to do only one of those things, and sermons were more important. But, I’m back (I hope).
For many people, it’s the last phrase of the gospel passage that will attract attention. “If in my name, you ask me for anything, I will do it.” How many people have been disappointed when that doesn’t work? Someone told the story of asking God, in full confidence, for healing from cancer, and it happened. Sometimes, things like that do happen, but just as often, they don’t. Does that mean we have prayed with inadequate faith?
I was reminded of the story of Nancy F. Nancy was one of those in control people. Successfully raised six kids, one with a learning disability. Worked full time (as a teacher). Sang in the choir, served on the altar guild, taught confirmation class. Plenty of things went wrong in her life (a daughter, who for a time, ran away from home, etc.), but you would never know it.
One day, at school, Nancy fainted. Turned out to be blood loss from a ruptured uterus. She had uterine cancer that hadn’t been diagnosed until too late. After surgery to stop the bleeding and remove the uterus, the surgeons essentially just closed her up and hoped for the best. Nancy didn’t want anyone to know anything was wrong. She kept coming to church, even while undergoing very aggressive chemotherapy. Everyone at church knew, but no one could say anything, because she didn’t want anyone to know. Her family had to play along.
People at church wanted to help. Her husband had to take off work (which they could ill afford) to drive her to chemotherapy. They were eating take out a lot (again, they could ill afford it). Finally, one day, as I was visiting her at home, I said, “Nancy, this isn’t fair, to your family and to the parish. You are preventing us from ministering to you.” She agreed the next Sunday to come forward for unction. When I got to her, I stopped, and invited her family to come forward to lay hands on her with me, and then explained to the congregation what was going on, and invited anyone who wanted to to come forward. No one stayed in their pew.
Immediately, people volunteered to drive her to chemotherapy, to bring casseroles for dinner, to help clean up the house, to drive the son to tutoring. Nancy and her family had been slowly withdrawing from the life of the congregation, because they couldn’t talk about what was really going on. Now, they were drawn back into that life. In a way, that moment at the altar, raised Nancy from the dead, even though we knew the cancer would eventually take her life.
She lived another year or so, and when she died, several of us gathered at the house to say the Litany at time of death. Her funeral was packed, and we buried her ashes in the memorial garden.
When Mary encounters Jesus in the Garden, she thinks he is the gardener. When he calls her name, she recongizes him. But he immediately says, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and tell my brothers and sisters that I am going to my God and your God, my Father and your Father.” Later that evening, he appears to all the disciples (having by now ascended to the Father) and breathes on them, and tells them the sins of whoever they release, they are released, and the sins of whoever they hold on to are held on to; essentially, that they govern the boundaries of the community.
In our passage today, Jesus says that when he goes to the Father, we will do greater works than he has done; forgiving or judging, managing the boundaries of community. When Nancy wouldn’t let us know she had cancer, we couldn’t let her be someone different in community than she had been. We had to hold on to that sin. Once we could let go of it (the failure of dying of cancer), we could restore her to life; greater works than Jesus did.
All of the language in this passage is about a journey. Jesus says, “I am the road; I am journeying to the Father; in my Father’s house are many rest stops; you know the road where I am going.” Christian life is a journey; we all go together. Community is the road we take. Those greater things are not just the direct answer to prayers – let me beat this cancer – but the way we live that community life on the road to wherever it is we are going, to Jesus’ Father and our Father, to Jesus’ God and our God.