This past week, people everywhere have been on edge. We go from day to day, most of us, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a heck of a time for us to be apart. If ever there was a Sunday when we needed to be together in church, this is it.
This past week at St. James, as we worked through the bishop’s guidelines for re-gathering, we realized just how long it’s going to take for us to begin to offer in-person worship.
Right now, we are looking at September, and even then, it won’t be like it was before. It’s going to take a long time before we can gather before this altar like we used to.
I have been asking people, what do you miss the most right now? We all have our reasons for missing being here, but what I am hearing the most is “just being together.”
There is something about seeing everyone in this space, singing, praying and receiving communion together that helps us feel the nearness of God and the unity we long for as a people of God—unity that eludes us in so much of what we do, but that, through faith, we find in God.
Today we celebrate one of the great mysteries of our faith—the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is who God is. The God we know is One in Three persons, who we address as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Wherever One Person in the Trinity is, the other Two are there, because our God cannot be divided. Our God is a community of love, love that flows from one to the other, love that honors the Personhood of each member while remaining true to the Oneness of their love.
This is the oneness we yearn to experience in our time on earth and that we do experience at times, if only in glimpses. When we are together in church, when we are working together inside or out in our community, when we listen to the choir sing or the organ play, when we see our children baptized and married, when we make our own holy vows—we are caught up in a beauty and oneness that takes us out of ourselves and unites us with God and all that is. The whole trajectory of human life can be seen as a yearning for oneness—oneness that honors our own personhood and yet draws us into the divine dance that is found in God, The Holy Trinity.
I imagine that’s what people found in Jesus when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted and to set the oppressed free. People flocked to him because in him they saw the oneness of God right there, in front of them. They felt the oneness of God streaming into them and calling them to wholeness, not only as individuals but as a community. In almost every healing story we read in the Bible, the person who has been healed and forgiven is restored to his or her family and to the community. People saw something in Jesus that helped them feel that they and all of Israel could be made whole again. The Apostles Peter and Paul saw something in the resurrected Jesus that led them to proclaim that Jesus had come to draw the whole world to God, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the world would be healed of its nationalism, its violence, hatred, and greed, and Jesus’ prayer, “that they all be made one” would one day be realized.
Today we join with people of all faiths and creeds who are asking God, how long, O God, how long will it be before that day comes?
In our Gospel reading, we hear how the resurrected Jesus sent out his eleven disciples, after they met up with him in Galilee shortly after his resurrection. We can only imagine what it was like for them, to have gone through what they did. One night they were sharing a Passover meal. The next day, they saw the Love they knew, the love they felt, the love that had drawn them into God’s own self, nailed to the cross. I imagine in that moment they were asking, just like we are, Lord, how long must we wait for justice? How long must we wait for love to finally triumph?
It helps me to remember how our church was born, and how it has been raised out of trauma. On Calvary, it felt like God had abandoned Jesus. On that street in Minneapolis, it must have felt like God had abandoned George Floyd. People of faith everywhere are grieving George Floyd, and all the others that are known and not known to us: slow deaths, vicious deaths, deaths that when you take them all together leave many of us shaken not only for the black community, but for all of us. How long, O God, must we wait for justice? How long must we wait for love to finally triumph?
To be a disciple of Jesus is to put ourselves at the foot of the cross every time something like this happens, and to pray for the healing and forgiveness only God can bring. Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Jesus prayed for those who didn’t believe in him; he prayed for the religious authorities who undermined him, and for the disciple who betrayed him; he prayed for the Temple Guards who stormed into the garden armed with clubs and spears and arrested him while he was at prayer; he prayed for the Roman soldiers who strung him up and watched him die. That’s what we do when we go to the cross; we pray like Jesus. We pray with Jesus. And we remember.
We remember how Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but to bring division. Jesus was talking about the human realm, the realm of sin. Sin separates us from one another and from God. When we are divided among ourselves, as we are now, it feels terrible. We don’t like it. It feels wrong. But in God, in the one, holy and undivided Trinity, we are not divided. We are one in Christ, and sometimes, that means we will finally recognize ourselves as the wounded, broken body we are right now. In many depictions of the Holy Trinity, Jesus still bears his wounds. Our God is a suffering God, who understands the suffering of those who have been unjustly killed, because that’s what happened to Jesus.
Some say that when hearts are broken, they are opened to a greater love, the love is poured into us by the Holy Spirit. It is through this love that we are inspired to ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify this time, so that even as we are apart, we find ourselves together in love; even as we lament the viciousness of the racism we see in our country; even as some of us resist seeing ourselves as contributing to the structures of racism; even as some of us want to defend ourselves by saying that we didn’t cause this, that we are enlightened, so this isn’t our sin—even as we struggle with all of this, we can be assured that we are one in God’s heart, one in God’s love.
God’s love raised Jesus from the dead. God’s love will give us the courage to stand up and meet the challenges of our day.
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech on March 25, 1965, on the steps of the state capital in Montgomery, Alabama at the end of a long march for racial justice that had started in Selma a few weeks earlier on what has become known as Bloody Sunday. Marchers had come out that Sunday (March 7) in their Sunday clothes to protest the killing of an unarmed black man, a deacon in the Baptist church, by police the week before. Those of us who have seen the footage or watched the movie Selma might remembers how police rushed the marchers and turned them back with tear gas and Billy clubs. When the march resumed a few days later, on March 9, a white minister who’d joined the march was beaten to death. So when Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the marchers who made it to Montgomery, they were tired; they were bruised; and their hearts had been broken.
“I know you are asking today,” he said, ‘How long will it take?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, it will not be long because truth pressed to earth will rise again.“
And he went on to say:
“How long, not long, because no lie can live forever. How long, not long, because you still reap what you sow. How long, not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Each of us has to decide how we are going to respond to this, our moment. I have heard so many people say, this is a turning point for me, and for our country. For many of us, it is a moment of decision. What you decide will depend on how you understand who you are and how you got here. My prayer is that each of us will give ourselves room to explore our own racial histories, and be open to what they have to teach us. This is a time to learn about our own “white fragility,” as Robin DiAngelo, describes it. What I like about Robin’s book (by the same title, White Fragility) is its clarity and compassion. You see, Robin is white. She understands the layers of defenses all of us have around race. The only way we can do this work, is to put ourselves in the safety of God’s love. I know a lot of us have felt bullied and shamed in conversations we’ve had before about race. But we can’t let that stop us. We can’t let it stop us from doing the work we need to do. White Fragility will challenge us, but it also will help us all develop resilience we need to talk about race and to address the great problems of our time. Remember, nothing can separate any of us from God’s love. God already knows our hearts, and what each of us needs if we are to be healed and made whole.
When God made us in God’s image, God colored our faces and bodies, and made us into something so beautiful, that when God saw it, God said that it was good, it was very good. May God help us in the coming days to recognize the good in ourselves and in one another, and help us as we learn again how to love ourselves and one another.