A Reflection on the Victoria Day Long Weekend (A Sunday Sermon)
Whether you call it Victoria Day, in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday; the more popular May Two-Four, with its double meaning; or Firecracker Day, as we called it when I was a kid –for many this weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer. For some it’s an opportunity to spend time outdoors preparing and planting the garden, others will be busy opening the cottage for the season, while many will enjoy a game of golf or a long bike ride. But perhaps best of all, it’s a time to relax with friends and family while simply enjoying the warmer weather and one another’s company.
But for some folks Victory Day weekends are not anticipated with the same enthusiasm they once engendered. And they have become more simply a time to reflect on gardens, cottages and time shared with loved ones from the past.Such memories are to be cherished and indeed we all know someone who has been robbed of them. But when our memories become our only companion, and even these cannot be shared, loneliness can set in, and it is often accompanied by a sense of abandonment, and of being on the outside, merely observing life as it passes by, rather than participating in it. And of course, loneliness is not limited to the aged. Think of the young man or women in life’s prime going through a divorce and suddenly finding themselves without the support of friends who don’t want to appear to be taking sides, or family that may be only too eager to take a side.Or of the more mature person who has recently lost a spouse of forty or fifty years. Others may be incarcerated but all the regret in the world will not free them from their isolation from the larger community. And still, others may be alone because they cannot muster the energy to connect with others, their depression weighing so heavy.Sooner or later, the lonely are forgotten, and while we engage one another in celebration, there are many others excluded from the party.
But my intent this morning is not to bum you out or make you feel guilty for enjoying yourselves while others may be left out. Like the poor, the lonely have always been amongst us. In fact, being lonely is a way of being poor in a world that can be rich with social interaction. But who has the time to spend comforting societies orphans? Many have enough on their plate simply caring for their immediate family and loved ones. Taking care of children or parents or both at the same time, all while holding down a job, leaves one with very little energy to do much else. And those folks need and deserve a break.
On the other hand, there are those of us of a certain age, who have less demand on our time. And as retirement approaches, the temptation may be to reward oneself by taking more time for “me”, having dedicated a good part of one’s life to family and career. And there is merit in this since the reality is that there is an inverse relationship between age and energy. But a life centered exclusively on improving one’s golf score or relaxing at the cottage may not be as rewarding as one had hoped -regardless of age or circumstance.
Rather, what I would like to suggest this morning is that God has a richer reward for us. And the reward comes in the form of a promise really. It is the subject of this morning’s gospel reading and simply put, it is Jesus’ promise that his followers will not be left orphaned after he has gone. It is a promise he made to those who would become the early church, he was still alive, and it is a promise he has kept to members of his church, of his body, over the decades and centuries following his death and resurrection right up to the present time. But be forewarned, there is a small catch.
This morning’s gospel reading begins with Jesus saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”(Jn. 15:15). now this sounds straight forward enough but notice that John establishes a link between Love and commandment just as he does earlier on in his gospel with the familiar words of Jesus, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). The newness in this commandment lies in the idea that a life of faith, in as much as it is a life of faith in Christ, is not defined so much by a set of rules, rather it is maintained through acts of love. Our faith finds its expression in our love of one another, and it is the reciprocal of God’s love for us.
The reading also introduces us to the Advocate or Paraclete, from the Greek word parakletos which has a wide range of meanings including, Advocate but also Comforter, Counselor, and Helper. Perhaps the word Comforter best illustrates the aspect of the Holy Spirit that I am trying to get at. Now the Advocate, or Comforter, we are told, will abide with the community of the faithful but not the world, after Jesus is gone. But we should be careful not to attribute some sort of exclusivity to these words attributed to Jesus, rather when taken as a prescription for Gods comforting presence within us, they point toward the universal and inclusive love of Jesus, for all those who would love one another.Once again, the requirement that the Comforter abide in us is not so much dependent upon our adherence to a set of prescribed rules, but rather our provision of comfort to others.
But the promise of the ongoing presence of God and Jesus for the believing community cannot be fully realized without us. Without us there is no community and God would be abstracted to some sort of Trinitarian Deity existing merely for Gods own pleasure. This may have been the sort of god some of Jesus’ contemporaries worshiped, like the god of Greek Philosophy, or the gods of earlier mythology; but it does not describe God as we have come to know God through holy scripture and through Christ.Rather God, as we have come to know him, is God for us.
But if and only if, we are also for God. And this is the catch I alluded to earlier. Our promise to God since our baptism is to be obedient to God and to be a disciple of Christ. And the mark of such obedience, Scripture tells us, is love. Not love in some abstract feel good way, although love surely makes us feel good. But rather a love that is expressed in the care for our families and friends, and is even large enough to extend beyond our circle to bring comfort to those forgotten ones. Indeed, God will not leave us abandoned, but he needs us to make certain that those within our sphere of influence are not forgotten. God promise to us needs to be our promise to one another.
My prayer is that all of us have a safe long weekend, enjoying the comfort of friends and family, and that we take a moment to give thanks and remember those who alone and to consider how we might bring comfort to such a one and in this way, know more intimately Gods comforting love for us.