I started my reflection this week by remembering being a child, as I watched our grandsons crawl over their father, climbing high, jumping with glee, with arms held firmly and bodies balanced on him, trusting in his capacity to catch, hold safe, and not to drop them whatever their energetic climbing and leaping demanded. I remember our two sons doing the same with their father. Faces lit with glee and laughter at the movement and pleasure of play and time with dad.
I thought about our sad, grieving farewells as our family headed home back east as we don’t know when we might see them again in these uncertain times. I remembered as a child saying goodbye and wanting to know ‘when!’ When will I see you again? Will it be soon? Why do you have to go away? I thought about these memories and what we said to each other, when I heard Jesus say to us several times in the gospel reading this week, in John 16:16-24 :
A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me. (John 16:16)
Hope offered and uncertainty ever-present, but gratitude is overwhelming for precious time spent together.
I then read Jesus’ use of the imagery of a woman in labour, about anxiety, pain and fear, with weeping and mourning turning to unbounded joy and delight when a woman gives birth to a much anticipated new life, a beautiful baby celebrated, safely brought into the world.
So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:32)
I want to use these images, filled with joy and delight, grief and pain, as we think about the liminal space in which we now live as children of God as we wait in God’s time.
How are we responding to Jesus’ apparent absence from the world, while we wait for the Holy Spirit, Advocate (15:25) and the Spirit of truth (14:16), sent in Jesus’ name? As we labour together to bring the new creation into view, are we waiting and serving in God’s time, ‘asking so our joy may be complete’. (16:24b)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian described discipleship beautifully as standing in solidarity, giving witness to the suffering of the world around us, not retreating or looking away, but engaged and active in the great work of waiting and labouring in the kingdom (1). Just as a woman once she is pregnant, knows there will be a birthing whatever the outcome, we know as disciples in this world, all of us women, men and children, we are participating in God’s birthing of the new creation, now and for the next ‘little while’.
In earlier verses in John’s gospel, Jesus reminds the disciples about how he remains present in the world in spite of leaving them to return to God. Jesus’ presence is made real by his disciples loving one another as Jesus has loved them, as God loves them, by abiding in God as God abides in them, dwelling, enduring and being present, sharing God’s peace with others. Jesus’ presence in the world is also made evident in our understanding and accepting that when we follow the Way of Jesus, the world will reject us and will not want us to be present in it. As Jesus said:
If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you.’ (John 15:18-19)
We live together in this church family in these liminal times, accepting the cost of discipleship as we actively wait ‘a little while’ until we see Jesus. So I wonder, what are you about each day as you wait?
Are you active in this pregnant pause, doing what God asks, loving, actively creating peace, standing in solidarity, giving witness to the suffering and injustices of the world, joining in God’s birthing?
Are you looking directly at what is happening around you, speaking truth, not looking away?
Do we truly understand and affirm there is no-one you encounter who is not created by God and beloved of God, just as they are?
God is rejoicing in the life of every person, black and white, gay and straight, refugee and citizen, apostle, martyr and atheist, as God calls each one of us into God’s creation. God is joyful in the birthing of each new person as God speaks the Word into being in each one of us. You and I are birthed by God as mother and parented with God as father, loved by God as Holy Spirit, sonned and daughtered as truly created beings within God and ourselves parenting and caring for others in faith in our church family and as sisters and brothers.
It is not our job to judge, reject, despise or ignore what God has created. Jesus called us friends, not servants. He said:
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I have appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:16-17)
So, in this liminal pregnant, birthing pause, as each of you realise you are mothering creation, you are being invited to give birth to love, hope and peace. As sisters and brothers, you are invited to stand in solidarity, being friends both of Jesus and with the stranger, seeing the world clearly and honestly, offering truthful witness and hope to those who are despairing and dying. Speaking truth to power. This is the love Jesus had for us as he carried his own cross on which he was to be hung while continuing to speak words of hope and love.
So, it will likely be a little while until we see God face to face, and while we want to see God soon, in this liminal time we have the Holy Spirit lovingly sent in Jesus’ name by God for us to be actively engaged in kingdom work. However, sisters and brothers, be comforted as we know the waiting, the suffering and the pain will turn to joy. Jesus said:
On that day, you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. …. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. (John 16:23-24)
As the psalmist said:
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
The Lord be with you.
Bonhoeffer, D. 2007. 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (2007:37) Augsburg Books, Minneapolis