Mark Genszler is a congregant at St. Lydia’s and a student at General Theological Seminary. He offered this sermon at Dinner Church on March 25, 2012.
So, I’ve been thinking about farewells, and absence, and all the things we say and desire when we take leave of those we love. Pithy statements? A quick kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane? Ramble on for several chapters-worth of the Gospel of John in what are called the ‘farewell discourses’, from some of which we’ve read tonight?
In 1998, I left for an adventure in the Peace Corps. At the airport, back when it was still easy for friends and non-passengers to accompany you to the actual gate, were my mother and father, older brother Andrew, and dear friend Amy. I was full of emotion. I had no words; I had too many words. Maybe I had been reading the Gospel of John, because I turned at the gate, looked at my mother and – indicating my friend Amy – said, “Woman, here is your daughter,” and then turned to Amy, and said, “here is your mother…” We all burst into laughter. And I went off to Central Asia to see who I was on the other side of the world, and to inquire if God lived there, too…
It is good that I leave you, or the spirit can not come. So says Jesus several times and in several ways as he says farewell. At the beginning of tonight’s passage he explains once again to the disciples that he is going away but will come to them again. It is good that I leave you! I didn’t turn to my mother and friends and tell them that at the airport in 1998, but it’s true for us even as of Jesus. Yet, we are still present to each other, somehow. In 1998, as I left, my brother gave me a card he had made, with a picture of the two of us with our younger brother, and he had written: “Somehow, we are truly in many places if we remember them well and often. This also allows us to truly be with each other, wherever we are in the world. I am looking forward to many stories… until we meet again.”
So, I have also been thinking about absence, and hunger.
As becomes clear if we read the whole, wonderfully repetitive set of the Farewell Discourses — with all their mixture of beautiful, memorable images and seemingly opaque talk about leaving and coming again – and those poor disciples! Muttering, not understanding! Jesus says: oh, I hear you. Are you confused? What did I mean that ‘in a little while you would see me again?’ Jesus actually is not looking ahead with clairvoyance to the resurrection (“in a little while”), nor to some eschatological revelation of the son in glory at the end of time. For John, Jesus already is fully among the beloved community as the Word of God revealed. No: Jesus is speaking of the way in which the Spirit of God will come to them, comes to them already… but will come more fully among and within them in his absence.