Sermon, May 26: Footprints

Separation starts in deepest pain. The ripping apart of a loving relationship leaves the ones left behind with a singular focus and it is on their loss. And their loss is so large that it turns all their living into grief.
Surely that’s how Jesus’ friends felt in those long difficult days. They comforted each other with stories of Mary’s conversation with the mysterious gardener and Thomas’s meeting with the One who encouraged him to touch his wounded body so he might believe. And then one day – the bible says 40 days which means a time of completion – Jesus was not there any longer. The separation had become a way of living. Yet – as clear as it was that he was gone from them – they also sensed just as strongly that they had not been abandoned. That there still was a link between them and that link could be trusted.
How to share the essence of this new and crucial sense was spoken among them as story. If we think about the post-Easter stories, one thing we’ll notice is that Jesus didn’t ever seem to be where he used to be. He was not in the tomb when the women went to leave their flowers, but risen and gone ahead of them to Galilee. He was not on his way to Galilee, but walking and talking on the road to Emmaus. And now he was no longer with them in Bethany, was no longer even on earth, but risen beyond human comprehension.
He had become the one no longer subject to the pull of mortal constraints, the one who – even against the laws of nature – has been pulled straight into the heart of God, bringing his human identity along too: No longer the friend who walked along the road or the teller of parables, but the risen Savior, even the one who “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”
And so, the men in dazzling white robes turn to us with their question. “Why do you hang around, just staring into space?” How are we to understand Jesus saying that “the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”?
How on earth might we be witness? Where’s the connection to be found, if Jesus is gone from sight? Well, one image I have loved for a long time is a woodcut of the ascension scene. It’s an image of Jesus rising up and the disciples watching him disappear into the clouds. But you can also look down and see precise footprints, clearly etched in the earth. Perhaps the artist is asking us that same odd question that the men in dazzling white asked the first disciples so long ago – “Why do you hang around, just staring into space?”.
Where might we look, if we were to look for Jesus’ footprints on the earth, today? Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the one who first said “The body of Christ takes up space on the earth.” The body of Christ makes footprints, you might say. He goes on to add that “a truth, a doctrine, or a religion need no space for themselves. They are disembodied entities, that is all. But the incarnate Christ needs living people who will follow him.”
Needs, Bonhoeffer said. Christ needs us, you and me, because we are the only hands and hearts and voices God has in our time. Needs, he said, another way of saying that – at the heart of all life – is an unending, mutual longing for connection.
This longing for connection is what is targeted by separation. Most of us have experienced, as the poet Jan Richardson suggests, that separation evolves. The movement will be slow but certain – until finally all that exists between the parted ones is blessing and all that beats between them is grace. Perhaps a primary motivator for that evolving is Holy Spirit, the One whom Jesus promised you recognize because God’s spirit dwells in you, and your spirit dwells in God.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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