Sunday, May 2, 2010

Easter 5

As many of you know,
the pastoral council’s survey of the parish last year
revealed that 65% of those responding
have been in the parish for fewer than ten years,
and 51% had been in the parish for fewer than five years.
(I should note that, having been in the parish twelve years,
this makes me one of the “old timers” –
something I’m not too happy about.)
And if you have been paying attention
to those who tend to stand in the back of the church
you might have noticed that in the past six months
we have had something of a baby boom.
And when you add this to the seven children
we welcomed to Christ’s altar
at last week’s first communion celebration,
one has something of a sense of what John felt in the book of Revelation
when he heard the voice form the heavenly throne say,
“Behold, I make all things new.”

He must have felt a sense of exhilaration
at the new vistas opening up before him:
the new Jerusalem descending from heaven,
the city where God will dwell with the human race,
where “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away.”
At the same time, John must have felt a sense of apprehension
at the prospect of all things being made new –
the prospect of the transformation of all that is familiar
into something new and different.
How, we might ask, will we find our way
if God makes all things new,
if the old order passes away entirely?

These thoughts occur to me at this particular moment
because on Thursday we buried Ruby Strawberry,
eighty-nine years old,
a long-time and faithful parishioner
who attended the 4:00 Mass,
and because in a few minutes we will baptize
two of our newest parishioners, Theo and Mary.
Somehow, at least in my mind, these two events
keep intersecting with each other.
It is tempting at such a moment
to think of an old order of things passing away
and a new order of things beginning,
to think of the passing the torch from one generation to another
as part of the ceaseless cycle of birth and death.

But I think there is something far more mysterious going on here.
It is not that Theo and Mary are arriving just as Ruby is leaving.
This might be true in terms of the natural cycles of birth and death,
but it is not true when we take into account the mystery of God’s grace.
For our faith is that Ruby hasn’t really left us;
reborn in Christ, she is not part of the old order that has passed away,
but rather is a citizen of the new and heavenly Jerusalem
where she dwells with God.
She is not gone;
she has simply moved more deeply
into the mystery of Christ’s body,
the same body of Christ into which
Theo and Mary will soon be baptized.
By our human reckoning Ruby might belong to one generation
and Theo and Mary to another,
but in Christ’s body they share a common birth into eternal life,
and are “fellow citizens with the saints
and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
Somehow, in the mystery of the Church,
Mary and Theo will be Ruby’s friends;
they will pray for her
when our book of memory is presented each November,
and I am confident that she will pray for them
in the mysterious eternity of the Church triumphant.
This is what it means to be the Church:
to believe that we are united by God’s grace in Christ’s body.
And this is why Christ commands his disciples in today’s Gospel
to love one another with the same love with which he has loved them.
This is the love that can united us across barriers of time and distance,
and even across the barrier of death.

It is important always to keep this love that Christ commands
before our eyes
as we live our life together as a community of faith.
Given human nature, we can be tempted either to cling to the past,
to the ways that we have always done things,
or to become so enamored of the new that we dismiss our heritage
as merely part of the old order that has passed away.
Both temptations must be resisted
if we are to fulfill Christ’s command of love.
The one who says, “Behold, I make all things new”
constantly calls us into a future that requires us to change,
to think in new ways,
to venture outside the boundaries with which we are comfortable.
The large influx of new parishioners in the past decade
is a wonderful sign of life
but is also a challenge to those of us who have been around a while:
a challenge to think in new ways and to ask new questions,
to listen to new voices and consider new possibilities.
At the same time, we have a body of accumulated wisdom:
the wisdom of our long-time parishioners
and the wisdom of the tradition of the Church,
and this too must be listened to
if we are to be faithful to who we are.

What will make all of this possible is love:
the love with which Christ loves us
and with which he commands us to love each other.
Like Mary and Theo and Ruby,
we meet on the common ground of the love of Christ,
trusting that Christ crucified and risen is in our midst,
and that God’s spirit is here to guide us.
Our treasured past,
our challenging present,
and our unknown future
are all united in the God whom St. Augustine called
the “beauty so ancient and so new.”
So let us love one another:
old timers and newcomers,
children and adults,
progressive and traditional.
Let us love one another with the same love
with which Christ has loved us.
We owe it to Mary and Theo.
We owe it to Ruby Strawberry.
We owe it to ourselves.