Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2017
Pr. Craig Mueller
Imagine an airport terminal. People coming and going, welcoming and bidding farewell. You watch people embrace: some with tears of sadness as they say goodbye, others with tears of joy as they greet someone arriving. In a way, airports represent our mobile society—always on the move.
I often fly between Chicago O’Hare and Denver, two of the busiest airports in the country. The crowds and lines can be overwhelming. How different it was at the Hartford, Connecticut airport where I was earlier this month. It seemed laid-back by comparison, and I tried to imagine what it would be to fly between places like Omaha and Indianapolis all the time!
But imagine being at the terminal and not being able to go anywhere. 1,000 refugees have been living in an abandoned airport terminal in Greece since February 2016. The inside of the terminal is filled with tents that become houses for the refugees, providing a little personal space and privacy.
Mirwaiz is from Afghanistan. In his words: “The first time we arrived here the facility wasn’t good. But step by step the Greek people helped us with clothes and food. We sleep in the terminal part of the airport. But we can’t travel to any places. I wish that one day my family and I could travel without any problems.” watch the video1
Humanitarian groups have called for the refugees to be moved and the camp closed. The asylum seekers continue to wait.
A terminal is a place where passengers embark or disembark or where freight is received or discharged. Yet we also say that something is terminal when it forms the end of something. When a situation is or seems terminal, it can feel hopeless.
When it doesn’t seem like we are going anywhere . . . when we are separated by distance or discord . . . when it is hard to imagine a future . . . when we fear being abandoned or left behind . . . it stirs up fear. As Jesus prepares to leave his followers, they face separation anxiety. Yet Jesus assures them: “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you.” His words today are part of the farewell discourse in the gospel of John—words that fill three chapters.
Sometimes it feels like we are abandoned by God and all we feel is the ache of emptiness and doubt. At his death Jesus goes away, yet promises to return as the Spirit who will abide with us forever. As we love one another, as we hold one another close in times of fear, as we embrace people in their comings and goings, the spirit of the risen Christ is with us. During these weeks of transition before the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost—this time of departure and arrival—we yearn for the Holy Spirit to dwell among us and in us.
Come down, O love divine, we sing, we pray. Let us be clothed in holy charity—in love for another. In a time when everyone claims to be right and to have the truth, may lowliness of heart be our inner vesture as we move from place to place in our daily lives.
This is the time of year that people hear commencement addresses. In these partisan times, we hear stories of protests and outbursts at graduation ceremonies. Yet how interesting that the word commence refers to not an ending, but a beginning. Farewell to one way of life means greeting a new one.
I have been reading the novel The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The main character Cora is a black slave who escapes a plantation in Georgia and then finds the underground railroad. At one point, she is hidden in an attic by a white couple in North Carolina. The couple is terrified of what could happen to them if Cora is discovered. They have watched their neighbors hung for a such an act. While in the attic, Cora notices that she lives “between departure and arrival, in transit like the passenger she has been ever since she ran. . . What a world it is, Cora thought, that makes a living prison into your only haven. Was she out of bondage or in its web: how to describe the status of a runaway?”
Sometimes it feels like you are in an airport terminal but you can’t go anywhere. In the past 15 years, Holy Trinity has sponsored a number of refugee families. Several months ago, this year’s refugee project was put on hold due to current travel restrictions. Yet Refugee One continues to welcome refugees facing persecution, terror and war, and stands with those already here and yet to come. Our loose offering during May and June supports Refugee One and we are proud to partner with them!
There are many ways we may feel abandoned or orphaned. Some of us yearn to meet our birth mothers or fathers. Others long to know our roots, or to become parents ourselves.
Mustafu is a Syrian orphan refugee in Jordan. Mustafu’s memories are of hell. He witnessed his father and mother lying bloodied in the dust and their legs torn from their bodies. Mustafu is slowly coping after years of screaming with night terrors. Yet, at age five, against all odds, he is bubbly and cheerful.
Life goes on. How amazing that the human spirit is resilient. Through the lens of Easter, we would call it a divine spirit that brings life out of death.
Sometimes it feels as if we are living in an airport terminal. Jesus’ followers always live between departure and arrival. When we see no movement, when it seems the arc of justice is not moving forward, when our lives seem stuck and we cannot imagine a new future for ourselves, we cling to the promise that God does not abandon us.
Rather than orphans, we are God’s offspring. In baptism, we are children of God. As we move through these challenging times, as we dialogue with people of other faiths, other persuasions, other ways of life, and other political worldviews, we find new hope, new energy in the God of all creation and all people—the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being. The God of resurrection, the God of new life.