The Pace of Life's Journey
The Third Sunday of Easter
St. Mark's, Port Royal
April 19, 2015
I John 3:1-7
In today’s liturgy, we mark two significant points on the journey of faith – baptism and confirmation. It is important to remember and to celebrate the significance of such landmark moments in a community of faith.
Because of these landmarks, I also thought this week about the overall journey of faith – the life journey of individuals and of communities as well. And, further, I considered various gifts and abilities necessary to navigate various points along the way.
One reality about the faith journey is that the pace differs from time to time. That is, sometimes our lives of faith move along slowly, deliberately, and predictably. There is a steady calm as we take one step after the next. And, there exists a degree of comfort at such points on the journey.
However, at other times, things seem to happen more quickly. People, places, and events change, and such transformation can happen suddenly – even, one right after another, in quick succession. Rather than responding with a degree of calm comfort, we can become overwhelmed and disoriented, and we may feel totally unprepared for what will come next. Thus, in these several minutes today, I want us to pay attention to times of haste and rapid change on our journeys of faith.
Today’s Gospel account offers the impression that fast action was the order of the day. Actually, this reading describes one in a series of events. St. Luke gives us glimpses of the risen Christ – one following quickly after another. Just prior to today’s lesson, we may read the account of Jesus appearing on the road to Emmaus. On that occasion, two disciples were walking along, disappointed and desolate at the death of their leader. The resurrected Jesus appeared and walked with them for a while, keeping them company, but at first, he was unknown to the disciples. They stopped and ate, and the disciples later told their friends that Jesus “had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (24:35).
Just following that account comes today’s reading. Again, the risen Jesus appears to a group of disciples, who were “startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (24:37), we read. Jesus shared a meal with them, nevertheless. Then, Jesus spoke with the disciples of an understanding of holy scriptures – an understanding from the perspective of the resurrection. Of course, that has been the view of Christians ever since, and it is our perspective as well.
According to St. Luke, though, there is no break in the action after that encounter either. Jesus immediately leads the disciples outside, and he blesses them there. Then, though, we read that he “was carried up into heaven” (24:51). Those words, therefore, describe the drama of the ascension of Christ.
Surely, today’s Gospel reading – as well as what precedes and follows it - gives the impression of fast action on the faith journey. There seems to be little time to take stock of what is happening or to attempt to understand what it all means. Jesus appears here, with a couple of disciples; then he appears there, with a larger group; then he takes them outside and ascends into heaven as they watch. The pace is fast-moving – almost frantic – on the journey of faith at this point in the Bible.
Now, let me change our attention here. May we consider now this community of faith– St. Mark’s, Port Royal. In the time since my first visit with you – just a bit over two years ago – a great deal has taken place on your corporate journey! Indeed, one might observe that your pace has seemed a bit frantic. You’ve had a priest on sabbatical visit you for two months, and then, you’ve installed your first vicar. You’ve gone to two Sunday services, and still, you wonder what to do with all the people who want to come. You’ve begun experimenting with this school space for worship on certain occasions. And, you’ve bought some property for possible future expansion as well.
In terms of the pace of life on this part of your journey, it is not difficult to draw parallels to the early church, immediately following Jesus’ resurrection. With that parallel in mind, I want to suggest two spiritual gifts needed in such a time. These are two characteristics of healthy living in a time of stress and change.
First, in such times, there is a great need for discernment. Too often when things move quickly, we do not spend adequate time reflecting on the consequences of decisions. After all, we have a list to complete, we might think, and we need to check things off. That is precisely the time, however, that we need to stop, think, discern, and recognize what is happening.
Did you notice in the part of St. Luke’s Gospel I mentioned this morning that the disciples simply did not recognize the risen Christ at first? “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (24:16), we read in the first encounter, and in the second, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (24:37). Those disciples lacked the gift of discernment, and their ability to function – which already was shaken – was made all the more unsure as a result.
The second gift necessary in such times, it seems to me, is faithful persistence. That is, we are called to keep on keeping on – even if things around us are turned upside down. After all, we know the way of the road we travel, and we know who it is we follow. In faithful persistence, we follow that way, in spite of distractions and disappointments which would turn us in a different direction.
Again, we may look to the disciples who did not exercise this gift either. Two of them had broken ranks and headed out of town, toward Emmaus, for fear of their lives. Then, at Jesus’ next appearance, the larger group was fearful and thought their Lord was a ghost. Fear, of course, is the chief stumbling block to faith. However, the call to us encourages us out of fear, into faithful persistence.
In conclusion, then, my prayer for us all, in times of rapid change, is to exercise the gifts of discernment and of faithful persistence. As we do so, may we follow the journey of our Lord who calls us into life. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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