Texts: Revelation 22 (the River of Life), John 17:20-26 (“that all may be one”)
Today is the last Sunday in Easter; and for many people, these seven weeks of spring form their favourite season of the year.
I am glad that we end Easter today the same way we began it on March 27 — with a baptism. Baptism reminds us that we can best see life and love through the lens of death and resurrection. Like Jesus, we have died to selfishness and fear. Like him, we have risen to a new life that is about all of our relations and not just ourselves. We have faced our fears and been reborn into a new life of love.
Today is also Mother’s Day, a time when popular culture asks us to give thanks to our mothers.
But this year, some of us may be feeling out of synch with spring, Easter, and Mother’s Day.
In Edmonton this year, spring seemed to start in February and summer on the first week of May.
In 2014 and 2015 — my first two years in Edmonton — it snowed on the days leading up to Mother’s Day. But last week, the temperature was near 30 degrees.
I am loving this early taste of summer sunshine, heat, and greenery. Unfortunately, it also helps fan the forest fires now raging across the West; and I feel unsettled to experience summer-like conditions in early May . . .
Easter can be difficult for those of us dealing with sickness or loss. How can we focus on new life when we are sick or mourning the death of a loved one?
Finally, Mother’s Day challenges those of us who have an ambivalent relationship with our mother, which is probably all of us! In this world of stress and conflict, none of us has an ideal childhood. All of us suffer from neglect and dysfunction to at least to some degree. And some of us struggle to transcend childhoods that are the opposite of the sentiments found on Hallmark cards.
Nevertheless, each spring the church proclaims hope, family, and new life. So I now turn to today’s readings from the Bible to wonder how this is possible.
Today, we heard the closing words of the Bible. The final chapter of Revelation describes Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, or First and Last; and as water from the River of Life. Before its final Amen, Revelation repeats the hope that Jesus will come soon. It ends the Bible with resounding hope in the light of grace.
Today’s reading from John is taken from the night of Jesus’ arrest. In his speech, Jesus prays for unity. One of the phrases he uses, “that all may be one,” is the motto of the United Church of Canada.
The United Church of Canada Crest contains elements from both readings. The bottom quadrant has the symbols for Alpha and Omega, which are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet. The left descending corner of the oval has the Latin words “Ut Omnes Unum Sint,” which means “That All May Be One.” The right descending corner of the oval has the Mohawk phrase “Akwe Nia’Tetewá:neren” [aw gway — nyah day day waw — nay renh], which means “All my relations.”
The symbols on the crest reflect our highest aspirations — for the coming of the Spirit; for unity; and for the well-being of all life. And like many things, we can look at these aspirations in more than one way. We can feel discouraged that they are so hard to achieve. Or we can give thanks for the ways in which they are already a reality.
Even as we continue to wait in hope for the coming of Jesus, we experience the Risen Christ within and among us.
Even as we live in families that are far from perfect, we know that we are all formed by Mother Earth. And while wounded, Mother Earth remains an endless fount of support and blessing.
Even as we despair that humanity is fractured, we know that we are related to the entire web of life. We are made from cosmic dust blown into the solar system billions of years ago. Each of us contains DNA that lays bare our connection to the entire web of life. The First Nations phrase “All My Relations” points us towards life in its wild diversity and its essential unity. At our roots, we are already one.
Our church crest contains symbols of our hopes. The baptismal affirmations we said today remind us that those hopes are already fulfilled.
Sickness may be a reality for many of us today. Much may be lost in Fort McMurray and in other areas of the world devastated by drought. Conflict and competition may continue to roil the human family.
But viewed from the depths, there is so much beauty, grace and love within and between us that our surface troubles disappear and we rise again to the joy we proclaim as a baptized and baptizing people.
So today as another Season of Easter comes to an end; as another beautiful spring takes more surprising turns; and as we mark another Mother’s Day with all its burdens and joys, I end this sermon with the same phrase with which the writer of Revelation ends the Bible . . .
“Come Lord Jesus Come!”