Updated: May 18, 2020
We have been here before.
Maybe each of us individually has not, but we the church have.
Our wise spiritual parents, the Jews, pray and celebrate each Passover in the first personal plural:
"we were slaves in Egypt," they say, even though the ones who lived through it are all
In that profound and beautiful sense, we have been here before. We the church have weathered plagues and pandemics and all kinds of politics.
We are heirs to a resilient hope that has buried more loved ones, closed more buildings,
disbanded more committees and grieved more groups than anyone can count.
In fact, we were born in death.
We were launched in loss.
The church is springtime, a miracle of autumn, the community of resurrection that traces its roots to the hopeless night that Jesus and his disciples celebrated their last Passover together and he told them that he was leaving them, and Where I am going, you cannot come.
He was announcing long-term physical distance.
Some of them protested.
All of them were confused and frustrated and hurt.
Life would never be the same again.
Of course, Jesus promised to come back, and the early church spent years expecting this to
happen any minute, watching the sky like CNN for breaking news.
It takes a while to shift completely from one reality into another.
The Passover generation couldn't wait to re-open the Red Sea and get back to Egypt.
Now matter how awful normal was, it was at least familiar, which is why it takes a lot of pain
and disruption and time to make wholesale change stick.
We are only just beginning such a massive shift right now; life will not return to what it was, and we are facing an unmapped new reality.
We are headed someplace we have never been.
We have been here before.
This coming Thursday, the church will celebrate Ascension Day, the completion of Christmas,
the day Jesus dramatically returns home.
Jesus the physical body is gone from view.
Thomas can no longer see or touch the wounds.
Mary can no longer hear the voice.
Peter can no longer look into those hauntingly tender eyes.
The physical separation is unrelenting, and Jesus did not leave a cell phone number.
I will not leave you orphaned, he said, but he did leave them feeling abandoned; who or
what could possibly replace him?
Our singers are great, but I miss the choir.
Mark is great, but don't you miss the band?
Video church is nice, especially how you can walk out during the sermon to go put on pants, but there are no neighbors or faces or enthusiastic children or stories or laughter or donuts or handshakes or hugs or smiles in line for Communion.
Even when we return, it will likely be with masks instead of singing, with painful social
distance and the constant distractions of keeping new regulations, with awkwardness
and uncertainty and worry.
It won't be the same.
And while some of that is good, and much of it is blessing, it is still hard and sad.
It sucks, and we will make it.
Because we the church have been here before.
The Advocate Jesus promised is the Holy Spirit, who is Christ gone virtual.
The presence of God-with-us has shifted from walk-in lobby to online banking.
Much is lost in this transition—we are hardwired to be nourished by human touch.
Incarnation will never lose its unique power.
But the Internet also brings possibilities a single human body does not possess.
Send a letter to England simultaneously by email and by ship; the race is not close.
The promised Advocate is a world wide web: invisible and powerful with a bandwidth and a
capacity no face or hands can begin to replicate.
When we have Bible Time with Pastor Tuesday on Zoom, we can share it with anyone in the
world ... but we cannot hug each other or carry coffee over to our friend.
We gain and we lose.
It is the nature of change, which is the nature of life, which is the gift of the God who
loves us and will sometimes leave us frustrated but will not leave us orphaned.
One of the ways we know this, not just in our heads but in our bones, is that we have each other.
The Spirit of Jesus, the invisible and unstoppable Advocate, connects us across space and
time and circumstance.
The Advocate is the Spirit of Not Being Orphaned.
Because we share in it, bathe in it, drink of it, breathe it, live and move and have our
being in it, we grow into a community that refuses to let any of God's beloved become
We look out for and check in on each other.
We collaborate with other congregations and support our wider church, which extends
our reach far beyond a few walls on Kittridge.
Please spend some time, for one critical example of this, on the ELCA website learning about AMMPARO; the link is included in the order of worship on Facebook.
AMMPARO is our national ministry of accompanying, protecting, and providing advocacy and opportunities for migrant children, many of whom have been orphaned by parents or political realities.
It is one of countless ways the Advocate is pushing and empowering the church to care for God's beloved who have been orphaned by everyone else, because Jesus won't accept that.
He will lose his life but not ours.
His church can lose its lifestyle but not its eternal soul.
We can pass through all kinds of change and tragedy and trial and frustration and sadness and anxiety and loss and grief and pain, but we will not be orphaned.
We can lose everything—have before, will again—but our God will not lose us.
Easter means that death no longer has the last word, only the first one.
The bitter end is only the beginning.
When all is lost, take heart.
We've been here before.