Toorak Uniting Church

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Left to trust

Acts 1: 6 – 14     1 Peter 5: 6 – 11
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15 am, 8 May 2005

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Today is the 7th Sunday after Easter. This Sunday is sometimes called Orphan Sunday because it falls between the Day of Christ’s ascension and Pentecost. The Lord has been taken up to heaven and is no longer sharing our earthly existence. The Spirit has still to come in his place to fill his disciples with renewed vigour and strength.

It is also mothering Sunday, which is, apart from a very commercial venture, a special Sunday to remember those who have mothered us or are still mothering us. A Sunday to remember love and care given, growth and nurture received.
Not necessarily through our biological mothers, but through anybody that has mothered us in the sense of giving us that special love, care and nurturing we all need to be able to grow into loving and mature people ourselves.

Last but not least it is Yom H’shoah for our Jewish friends and neighbours, a day to remember the horrors of Auschwitz and the other death camps. To honour all those who suffered under the Nazi regime in Europe during the second world war.

A strange mixture of things to come together on the Sunday after ascension, where we come to remember that the time Jesus was with his friends after his resurrection was limited. On the day of his ascension, 40 days after Easter he was taken from their sight and from their physical reality once more. They had to let go of his presence in the here and now, the discussions with him, his friendship, his interpretation of scripture, his preaching, the meals they shared together and for 10 days they were in limbo, waiting for what he promised would be a new and ever further reaching way of being present with them.

After Jesus ascension we find his friends staring up into the heavens. They’ve lost a friend, they’ve lost their master, they’ve lost their everything for the second time and I imagine that they felt, for the first moment or two, just utterly lost.

Gone.

I wonder if you have ever experienced such loss. Somebody gone, forever, leaving you empty and at a loss as to what to do next. Somebody no longer there, to share with, to talk with, to eat with, to be with. And you there, not quite sure how to proceed from there.

It happens to all of us at some time or other. Be it through death or through the disturbances of life. It doesn’t even have to be somebody, it can even be the loss of some-thing, a dream, a state of affairs, an ideal, something we worked hard for that collapses on us, a marriage we realise can’t be saved, a ventured we expected much off ending in failure. It can all produce that feeling of not knowing quite what to do or where to go, of being abandoned and paralyzed in our ability to act, freezing our inner being into inaction.

Being bereaved, feeling bereaved, then often starts with the same reaction as the disciples’ on that day when they realised Jesus was now gone from the physical realm to another place where he would no longer be as readily and as directly available as he had been: For a moment the world comes to a stand still, nothing moves, everything holds its breath and they stare into nothingness, not able to speak, act or move. Just standing there, numb, struggling to take it all in and come to terms with what will be a completely new phase in their relationship with Jesus.

It’s how we humans work: our psyche cushions loss, bereavement by slowing down the process, by giving us a little bit of respite and the opportunity to catch our breath and come to terms with what has happened to us at a slower pace. The bigger the shock, the longer it will take us to resume our lives and get back into a normal pattern of action and reaction. With some very bad trauma, it can even take years before people re-emerge from that catatonic in between stage. The already lost but not yet completely realised what it means sort of state.

In the story two men are provided to break the disciples’ trance like reviree:
"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?" Come on, wake up, they say, it is time to start moving towards Jerusalem and look forward to the next phase in your relationship with the Lord. He has promised he would not leave you orphaned, now trust that he won’t!

In my experience this is something that often happens when people are grieving: They will need somebody to redirect their attention, they will need somebody to draw them out of their inward looking lost-ness and help them reconnect with the world around them.

And usually, somehow, sometime, there will be someone or something that will help bridge the gap between the feelings of lostness, abandonment and a life that has changed completely and the return to life, community and future.

It can be two angels that somehow appear as in the story of the disciples, it can be the cat begging for attention or food. It can be the rain ticking on the roof or a sudden ray of sunshine. But somehow, sometime, something will break through the lost-ness and find ways to redirect and start to refill our empty hearts and bring us back to life. Most often this will take time and be a gradual process rather than an instant moving into action. Usually it takes time before we are actually capable to move on and integrate the loss into our lives and live a renewed existence enriched with memories of the good we have had to let go off.

People of faith, apparently, get through these processes easier and faster than others. Through stories, poetry and prophecy we learn about bereavement, about being lost and feeling abandoned as others have experienced it, but also about how God is in that experience with us and is able to bring healing and carry us through any such experience. It took 10 days before the Holy Spirit was given after Jesus’ final departure. It can sometimes take even longer before we experience God’s saving presence again, but eventually and ultimately God does not leave us in our bereavement and loss. He comes and is able to turn us around and transform us, and what we suffer, into something that may be even better than before.

Cast all your anxieties upon him says 1 Peter, because he cares for you. And that, ultimately, is where faith is able to carry us through things that we might otherwise not be able to endure.

Where the temptation comes in is where we lose heart and let go of our trust and faith that this will happen. Where we, contrary to the disciples who returned to Jerusalem rejoicing in prayer and eager with expectation, give in to the devil seeking to devour us by telling us that there is no point, that surely nobody is returning for us, that God is not like a mother, a parent who looks after her children and will even overcome death to care for them, that we are on our own. The devil who wants us to believe God is not interested enough in us to come looking for us, to, in his grace, fill us with renewed and even greater power and strength than we had before.

It is standing up to this devil that is the challenge when we feel we’ve been left looking at an empty sky. To persist in prayer and joyful expectation as the disciples did and tear ourselves away from feelings of abandonment and loss. To trust that God will, after a little while, come to restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.

Seven Sundays after Easter we celebrate Easter again: Lost, bereaved, the Lord gone and out of our reach the message of Easter is re-enforced: Why are you standing here like that? Why are you looking at an empty grave? He is not here! He is ahead of you. He will meet you on the road.
God will not leave us, the living Christ present once again, even more profoundly, through the coming of the Holy Spirit.
He will not leave us orphaned.

Celebrating Mothering Sunday we remember that although our earthly mothers may not always be there to look after us, or be able to look after us, we have a God who will.

Sharing in the pain of Yom H’shoah we remember how terrible suffering can get, how violently the dreams about our humanity can be disturbed, how deeply lost and abandoned we can become, through the pain and hurt people inflict upon each other and feel bereaved in the face of so much despair.

God does not let go. He may seem distant and we may at times be lost for word or action by what we experience, but God keeps coming back.
To love, to heal, to give power, strength and support.
In Jesus Name, Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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