“I Am with You Always, to the End of Time”
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
July 2, 2017
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Transition Sunday
Psalm 121; John 14-17
Dr. Ira Byock directed palliative care at Dartmouth Hitchcock. His books tell us to be sure to say four things when we come to a final goodbye: please forgive me; I forgive you; thank you and I love you.
The end of every stage of life marks the transition to the next. To be present in such a moment is to have one foot in the past and one already stepping toward something new. It is important to make a careful ending so that we do not stumble as we make our first step toward the new life.
So it is important today that I ask your forgiveness, and that I assure you that I forgive you, and that we thank one another, and that we express our love for one another.
This is a sanctuary, meaning a safe place to feel and live our truth and know we will be accepted and affirmed as we are. You may be in one of the stages of grief, or you may feel excited for the next stage of the journey, or you may feel all mixed up. It is fine. We love you. Let your feelings be what they are. They have something important to tell you, and then they will pass and you will feel something else.
I could not possibly speak to where every person is today, but I will speak to a place where we all go sometimes, the place of needing comfort for loss and grief. The church and Jesus Christ can help us there.
Jesus said at the end of the gospel of Matthew, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of time.” Jesus was human. He knew that we want those we love to be with us forever.
God is with us always. Christ, being filled with God and one with God, is also with us always. The Gospel of John goes further. It shows a way for us to be able to say to those we love and do not want to leave, “I am with you always to the end of time.” It gives us a way for that to be true even when we are cut off from one another by distance or death.
Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment as he is about to leave: “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” and, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” He is offering us a way through and beyond grief and fear to a place of peace and joy and love.
The image Jesus uses for that place is God’s house. He means God’s realm of eternal life—a place that we can enter after death, and also a place or way of being we can enter now that changes our relationship to death and loss while on earth.
The way into this realm is through faith. Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” The reason faith is important is that it opens our heart, mind and soul to the deepest connection possible, to complete oneness, “so that,” as Jesus says, “where I am, there you may be also.” Faith is like a portkey in the magic world of Harry Potter. It opens the door of metanoia, of turning our heart, mind and soul to God, and transports us into God’s realm.
The faith that we are one with Christ opens us to the realization that we are one with God and that the way is open to us into God’s eternal realm. The faith that we are one with Christ also opens our eyes to see that we are one with each other.
Such oneness may sound mystical or theoretical, but science is discovering this mystery to be fact. Subatomic particles pass back and forth between our bodies, interweaving us as one.
Brain scans reveal that we are as connected as the mystics and saints have perceived. What happens to one of us does in a real sense happen to those around us. We see someone grieving, and the part of our own brain that grieves becomes active, and the same goes for laughing or yawning or anything we do. We are wired for empathy and compassion.
A Swedish researcher has found that when we sing together our hearts begin to beat in unison.
We are like the trees of the forest—we look as if we are individual entities, but the light of science has uncovered that in the darkness beneath the surface our hearts, minds and bodies are one.
You know this if you have ever felt connected to someone far away. You know oneness transcends death if you have felt the departed within and around you as a comforting, sustaining presence, whispering in your heart, “I am with you always, to the end of time.”
I know it is not the same as someone’s physical presence. I know firsthand that we can miss people terribly and feel sick with grief even as we feel them nearer to us in death than they were in life, but grief does not diminish how comforting and strengthening that feeling of nearness truly is, any more than darkness diminishes the beauty of a candle flame. The feeling of oneness can bring us peace. It can lead us to joy that we thought impossible in the midst of such sorrow. So how can we have that peace and joy?
“You know the way,” Jesus said. But Thomas said, “We don’t even know where you are going, how can we know the way?” We do not fully understand this mansion of God, this eternal realm where Christ is leading us where we are with one another always to the end of time. How can we know the way?
Christ said, “I am the way.” If we know Christ, we know the way. It is the way of compassion. It is the way that recognizes all people and all creation as one. It is the way of self-giving love. It is the way of faith and hope. We learn Christ’s way by studying his life and teachings, and we learn it even more by experience. It is like walking a path through a hayfield or forest in the middle of a dark night. We learn it step by step, feeling when we are in it or out of it. If we stray, we trip in the high grass or walk into a tree, we fall and then we get up and get back on the path. We learn to find the way of oneness, with its peace, joy and love even in the midst of loss or separation or struggle, by believing in it, walking it and getting the feel for it.
God’s name is not I WAS or I WILL BE. God’s name is I AM. Union with God and God’s realm happens always in the present. Union with others we love is therefore also always in the present.
It is tempting to dwell in the past, but the best thing we can do after we have lost someone we love is to be mindful in every moment. We will feel our grief more keenly that way, which is a good thing, and we will also see signs that the one we love is with us, offering comfort and strength, which is an even better thing. We need to be present to the darkness in order to find the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness cannot overcome.
My wish for us all in this time of leave taking is that we live as fully alive to the present as we can. The present is where we will find the Spirit that unites us leading us on our parallel paths toward the same end. The present is where we will discover the gifts ahead that right now only God can see. The present is where we will learn the truth of Christ’s words, I am with you always, to the end of time.
Let us enter faithfully and mindfully into this present moment in silence…