Have you ever been led to something? On Monday I had planned to go to Pilates after work, but I had the opportunity to visit Lucia a visitor to our church. So I changed course. I visited her in her home and then decided to stop by and see Shirley in the hospital. While I was there, John who attended our church several years ago, randomly call and invited me to the Preaching Conference at Mt. Hermon. Somehow, I was meant to be there. Anne Zaki spoke with passion. She is a professor of Practical Theology in Cairo Egypt. With the Pope’s visit to Cairo it was so timely to hear her inspirational message. She spoke to us as pastoral shepherds about knowing your flocks and attending to your herds. I was heartened to learn that there are 15 million Christians in the Middle East and the 10 million of them are in Egypt, even after so many have fled for their safety. With all of their uncertainty, how many times have we prayed for the people of the Middle East. My heart was warmed as she reminded us that there are millions of Christians in the Egypt praying for us right now in our political uncertainty.
I believe I was led to be there – The spirit moved so that I was not in class and all sweaty when the call came in to go. That as I pulled out the parking lot I decided to turn right towards Mt. Hermon, instead of home after a long day. That the woman whose cell phone John called me from answered and could tell me where to find him. The Spirit led me to be there.
The Spirit is God’s force working in our lives and in our world. On Pentecost God sent us the Spirit to be with us after Jesus was no longer with us on earth. Yet we also have Christ’s presence in our lives today. I would be hard pressed to tell you how these are different, it is a mystery of the Trinity. But I can tell you, Christ’s presence is birthed in the resurrection.
Our confessions can give us help in understanding these mysteries of faith. The Heidelberg Catechism states, in the answer to Question 47, “Christ is true man and true God. With respect to His human nature He is no longer on earth, but with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit He is never absent from us.” This statement tried to do justice to Jesus’ own teaching before He left this planet. On the one hand, Jesus said, “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me” (John 7:33). On the other hand, He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). Jesus announced a real departure and also a real abiding.” (The Presence of Christ, R.C. Sproul). Christ’s presence is that real abiding in your life when Jesus is walking with you. Christ’s presence is that personal, human, emotional and spiritual connection to our God. Christ’s presence is what we lean into when life feels really hard and we simply do not understand.
Cleopas and his companion were feeling that way on the road to Emmaus. They were the very first to experience Christ’s risen presence. Lost in grief and confusion, they are traveling home to Emmaus, when they encounter a stranger who has not heard about Jesus. Of course, Jesus is the one walking with them, listening to them and all their sorrow, their dashed hopes and their unanswered questions. Jesus enters their circumstance and meets them where they are, and travels the journey with them, no matter where it leads. Jesus does not leave them in uncertainty, he compassionately teaches and explains scriptures to give them a new hope. Jesus is reframing their grief into a new hope. Remember from last week, the acronym for hope is Hold On, Pain Ends.
Our psalmist expressed hope declaring “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplications.” He is giving witness to the connection between one human and the loving and merciful God who listens. He had faced the snares of death, and prayed to save a life, and praises God in response to answered prayers.
Over and over again, I prayed for God to save a life, but that prayer was not answered.
We have been on a journey, not on the day of resurrection like Cleopas and companion, but it was a journey of life and death for our dear friend Shirley. We all journeyed this road of hope and sadness, confusion and disbelief. We live in the grief of losing our dear friend. We too wondered, “How can this be?” Our confusion is not three days and resurrection, but three weeks from the fullness of life to her final breath. It happened so fast it leaves us with questions, along with our grief. Much like on the road to Emmaus, we journey this with Jesus and the question is, “Will we be able to see him, feel him, open our eyes to God’s presence in Christ?” Grief can blind us to God and to our faith. Grief can shut our eyes to God’s love in our midst. We too get to ask Jesus even if we cannot see him, to “Stay with us.” Stay with me Lord even in my doubt, stay with me especially in grief. We get to allow God through our grief and faith to reframe a painful loss into a witness for Christ.
I have felt privileged to walked with Shirley and her family as they have journeyed her path home, home to God. It was a very unexpected journey, it was filled with ups and downs, hope and devastation and a witness to Christ. The first day I visited her in the hospital she was waiting for a blood transfusion and I saw her Bible and her copy of Jesus Calling on her table. Jesus Calling is a daily devotional written in Jesus’ voice with scripture passages to look up supporting the message. I read this devotional book myself, and a message I often get is Jesus saying, “I am with you, there is hope.” I asked if she had a chance to read her devotion? She had not, so we read the day’s mediation together. Referencing Isaiah, Christ’s presence was saying to Shirley, “I love you with an everlasting Love that flows out from eternity without limits or conditions… stay conscious of My loving presence with you in all that you do” (31:3).
Shirley walked with Jesus from this life into the next, she had asked Jesus to stay with her, she had praised God even through the tough times. She knew and saw Jesus in her life, she felt Christ’s presence.
Christ’s presence was made real in the breaking of the bread, in the sacrament of communing with God.
Christ’s presence was with Shirley in sparing her from surgery and giving her a swift passing and merciful peace.
Christ’s presence is with you as you grieve this loss.
Greatest of all is that through Christ’s living presence Jesus walked with Shirley through this life into the fullness of God’s glory.
Let all God’s people say…Amen.