He came home from the war so it’s not technically his holiday, but I think of my dad on Memorial Day because he loved the parade. The Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, the high school band, the volunteer firemen (they were all men) and pretty much anybody else who could muster up some kind of uniform turned out to march down the main street of the town where I grew up. The bad boys lined the street with their pea shooters, aiming mostly at the bottoms of the Girl Scouts, and their aim was dead accurate, or at least that was my experience. The cop who manned the crossing at the school down the street from our house was there on the sidelines, his back pocket full of confiscated pea shooters. I’ve often wished I had a picture of that, but the mental image—and the feeling of vindication—is still clear.
I think in my father’s mind it stood for everything he had fought for, everything he’d wanted to come home to. What I realize now is that it represented an America that didn’t fully live up to the ideals of the flags we carried and saluted. There was a lot missing but I didn’t know that then, and sheltered as it was, it was a good place for someone who looked like me to grow up.
Interestingly enough, we never attended the memorial service that followed the parade, and my dad’s comments about the vets who put on their tired old uniforms and marched that day—or rode in convertibles, as the years passed and they, too, grew older—were not all that kind. He could, of course, have qualified for either the American Legion on the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I think I asked him once why he didn’t join. I believe he answered that they were sad men for whom the war was the most meaningful thing that had ever happened to them. After that we didn’t talk about it.
With time on my hands yesterday, I set about a task I’ve been meaning to get to for a while: reading through a collection of the letters he sent home to his mother and three older sisters, one married and living in another state, the other two still living at home (as they would for the rest of their lives). He was 19 years old, and full of enthusiasm. He thanks them for things they sent: new glasses (surely the Army should have taken care of that?), cookies and candy (he always had a sweet tooth), and a little money. His mother sent a dollar, the married sister and her husband sent five, and six bucks made him the richest man in his outfit. His monthly pay was $35.
Back when my son was little there was a special story he would ask us to tell him at bedtime. It wasn’t anything from a book. Maybe you told your children your own version of this story, if you have kids, or maybe someone told it to you when you were little, and if so, you were blessed.
The story begins like this:
Once upon a time, there were two people who loved each other very much …
You probably can figure out the rest. It’s a story about love, about how true love always wants to be shared. It begins with two individuals who become a couple, and they go on to make a family that includes the little person in footie pajamas who’s listening and slowly relaxing into sleep.
In order to thrive, our children need to know that they’re loved. And it might be a stretch—but not too big a stretch, I think–to say that this is the same story St. Paul is telling in this morning’s reading from the letter to the Romans, where he talks about the spirit of adoption that makes us children of God, makes us part of God’s family.
We all need to know that we’re loved, and that love is the very nature of our God—a love we can trust as children of God.
This morning I want to tell you a story that’s a little different from the usual because it’s about a place rather than a person. It’s a story from the New Testament, but it doesn’t stand alone. It runs like a thread through several other stories, but today I want to tell it straight through on its own. I want to think about how much this place meant to the people who sheltered there.
I’m talking about the Upper Room, which is also sometimes called the Cenacle, where the disciples were gathered on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to them in the form of rushing wind and tongues of fire.
This room had been so important to them. It had been a refuge—a place of safety—and also a place of prayer. It’s a place where they were changed, so they were never the same once they left it behind.
The first time we hear about the Upper Room is when Jesus tells his people to talk to a certain man in Jerusalem about using a large upstairs room at his house for the Passover meal. And the man lends them the space they ask for, and that’s where they have their last supper together.
So it’s where Jesus blesses bread and wine and tells his friends to keep doing this exact thing, in his memory.
Friends, we find ourselves today in an in-between time, a time between what was in the past, and what will be in the future. We’re between the world as we knew it, and the world as it’s going to be, and it’s like being poised on a threshold between two different places, but in this case we can’t turn back. We can’t go back to the way things were, and there’s nothing we can do to make the future come any faster.
All we can do is wait.
And I know you might think I’m talking about the pandemic, or the way things are in the world in general, and of course those things do come to mind.
But I’m also talking about our life in church. Today we find ourselves in an in-between time, the time on the calendar of the church year between Ascension Thursday, which was last week, and the Feast of Pentecost, which is next Sunday. On the Feast of the Ascension we remember the day when Jesus Christ departed this earth in his human body, and on Feast of Pentecost we celebrate the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire and rushing wind as the dispirited disciples waited in Jerusalem.
And in that time between, the disciples were waiting, not knowing what was coming next.
And I wonder how that must have felt for them. After the devastation of the crucifixion, and the unexpected joy of the resurrection, they must have hoped that Jesus would stay with them for a while. And that in-between time, the time before they became aware of the strength and comfort of the Holy Spirit—the power of the Holy Spirit—that must have been a very sad and lonely time for them.
“This is my commandment,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As I have loved you. That really is the kicker in this commandment to love, which at first glance sounds rather pleasant, because who doesn’t want to love and be loved? But to love as Jesus loved—to lay down one’s life for one’s friends—that’s something else again.
You don’t often hear of someone giving up their life for their friends, although of course it does sometimes happen. This past week when I was reflecting on that line from the Gospel I found myself thinking about story of Jonathan Daniels and Ruby Sales.
I think I mentioned in one of my Holy Week sermons that Ruby Sales had led a Bible study for the diocese this Lent on Zoom back. She’s a middle-aged woman now, and I couldn’t help wondering what you would do with your life if you knew that someone else had given up his own so that you might live.
Which is an interesting question—right?—because that is exactly what we say we believe about ourselves.
Anyway, Jonathan Daniels[i] and Ruby Sales. You might have heard their story, since the Episcopal Church does remember Daniels each year on August 14 in our calendar of commemorations.
He was a native of Keene, New Hampshire, valedictorian for the Class of 1961 at Virginia Military Academy, and a seminarian at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he felt called in 1965 to go South and get involved in the civil rights movement.
First of all, I want to warn you up front: I’m going to invite you to share some sermon-related thoughts of your own this morning via the comments box on Facebook. This will be voluntary, of course, but if you think you might want to play along at home, have your keyboard ready.
I’ll even give you a rough idea now of what I’m going to ask. In general, it’s about what we’ve learned over the past 13 months about continuing as a community when we can’t be together in person.
What have we learned about that? What lessons has this pandemic taught us?
I’ve been seeing a lot of articles along those lines lately, as the vaccines roll out and as things begin to ease up a little. Articles about what we’ve learned. What have we learned about what really matters in life? What do we appreciate more now than we did before?
I saw a blurb last week for an article about things that people started doing during the pandemic that they want to keep doing when it’s over. It mentioned three things in particular: cooking at home, telecommuting, and wearing soft pants.
I call these two trees the old friends. They were growing in my back yard, side by side at the edge of a pond, when I moved here more than 40 years ago. I don’t know enough about trees to guess how old they were by then. They stand side by side, together enduring whatever weather comes, shedding their leaves each fall and growing new ones in the spring.
Although they’re different species, from some perspectives the two appear to be one tree. Sometimes I think of them as a family, the pair of smaller trees on either side their offspring.
We’ve asked our tree guy if we should be concerned about the health of the darker one standing slightly to the front, but he says no, it’s fine. I hope he’s right because it grows at an angle, leaning toward our house, but the tree guy says the roots are strong.
We moved several times when I was a kid, and I never felt rooted the way other people seemed to be in any of the places I’ve lived. Even now. There’s some sadness for me in that. Other times, though, I’ve just felt glad that I’m not stuck in one place. At least in theory.
I’m really pleased that two of my photos including this one are included in the Pace Center for Photography’s current show, Odyssey, which opened online today. Go to this page – https://www.pacenterforphotography.org/odyssey-2021…/ – and scroll down to see them both. Of course you should really go to A and look at the whole thing if you have time. I’ve just started to browse through it and it’s fabulous!
I’m going to say something that would no doubt shock some of my church friends if they heard it, but I feel like Easter is over.
At my house, it was just the two of us this year. We didn’t dye eggs, we didn’t have much candy, we had no ham or lamb leftovers. So at home, we’re done, we’re finished, Easter is over.
But here in church, the season of Easter continues until Pentecost, until the end of May. And just in case I forgot about that, I got an email last week from Episcopal Church headquarters with the subject line “Easter joy continues.” Well, I opened it in great anticipation, but it did not turn out to be a spiritual greeting, it was just a reminder that I still have time to contribute to the church’s annual appeal. So we have all kinds of ways of celebrating the things that matter in church—in church, where it is still Easter.
And in fact we’re really just getting started in telling the Easter story. This morning’s Gospel was still about that very first day, the day of the Resurrection. It comes from the last chapter of Luke, Chapter 24, which really focuses on just that one day, as the disciples struggle to understand what is going on here.
If the Gospel were drama, you could think of the story that we heard this morning as a play in two short acts, both taking place on the same very simple set, the room where Jesus and his disciples gathered the night before Jesus died.
The first act takes place on the evening of the same day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. And the second takes place exactly one week later, when Jesus returns and shows Thomas his wounds. It might seem like a very bare-bones story, but there’s a lot going on here.
And one question in particular stood out for me as I thought about it over the past week in this year of Our Lord 2021:
Why did the resurrected body of Jesus still bear the wounds of his crucifixion?