2020 Easter V – That Which Abides

Postulant Ken Kubo
17 May 2020

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. St. John 16:33

Welcome to Rogation Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter and the Sunday next before Ascension! (As a note, Ascension is this Thursday, forty days after Easter, so please do take a moment to observe the day with prayer) The Western church observed these days leading up to Ascension as a time of special prayer – in particular via litanies and processions – to ask for God’s blessing and mercy. The name comes from the Latin rogare, meaning “to ask” from the Gospel reading for today, “…Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (St. John 16:23). In the northern climes, this was also a time for the blessing of crops at the sowing, as reflected in the psalms for the day and the processional hymn. So, those of you with gardens, we pray for healthy soil and the bounty of nature. One of the traditions, particularly in the Anglican church, was for the minister and parishoners to walk the boundaries of the parish and pray for its protection for the coming year. As our boundaries are fairly limited (or extremely wide, depending on whether you judge by land or the distance between our furthest parishioners), our observance was the use of the Litany today. And if we assume that at least some of you have fiber-optic connections to the network somewhere, that means our prayers have gone out on waves of light far beyond our zip code. Let’s hope so, because looking at the weeks ahead, we could certainly use all the protection we can get!

We have come through a time of great testing, both as individuals and as a culture. Faced with an implacable, unseen adversary, we threw up hasty walls, closed off possible weak points in our armor, and shielded the world from us with cloth masks. Now, we begin to consider stepping back into the world, reclaiming small pieces of normalcy, while acknowledging that we are not quite the same – we are a little more wary, a little more conscious of the proximity of others. It’s amazing how quickly we have programmed ourselves to be so aware, but it’s ultimately part of our wiring, the neuroscience of our survival instinct. We are of two minds. Our higher order conscious thought and our limbic system which understands primarily fight, flight, or freeze. Some affectionately call the limbic system our “lizard brain” because it is less evolved; its job was to keep us alive long enough so that we had time to think higher thoughts. In looking for potential dangers, your conscious mind may be looking at a dozen or so things in your environment every minute. Your limbic system may be looking at as many as twenty thousand. It is a part of you that is constantly watchful, almost like being in a constant state of fear. Now imagine that you could be somewhere so secure that that portion of your brain could actually relax, could “dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.” (Ezekiel 34:25) How strange it would be to be fearful for so long and then suddenly not. What would we be capable of if we could just take that fear out of our heads! Yet while we live in these uncertain times, we still need our watcher on alert to keep us safe. There is a fine line between courage and recklessness. As a recent Disney heroine states, “I’ve had my adventure, I don’t need something new; I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you into the unknown.” (“Into the Unknown” from “Frozen II”). Change and unknowns are not optional; how we face them and even embrace them is more the question.

“When dark clouds are o’er us, And the storms before us, Then its light directeth, And our way protecteth.” – Henry Williams Baker

In times of quiet, when we have the luxury to just “sit in the synagogue and pray” (Fiddler on the Roof), it is comparatively easier to reflect on Holy Writ and have a good, casual conversation with our Creator. There is, as it were, less at stake on both sides. When we are in the middle of the storm, when we are beset by earthquake, fires, wind, and, yes, viruses, we are wired to go to survival mode, to think first of ourselves and freeze, flee, or fight. This does not make us bad people – we’re victims of our biology and we could, if we were so inclined, question the Designer who made us this way. But what Our Lord tells us, and what He told the Apostles in their day, was that He would lead us through. In turn, we are called on to help others, both by doing what we can to help others in affliction and by being honest, consistent, and conspicuous in our faith (“to visit the fatherless and windows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world” St. James 1:27). It is in the storm that we most need Christ’s Light to guide us and keep us on track. It is amid chaos, when it’s hardest to concentrate, that we must listen through the earthquake, wind, and fire for the still, quiet voice of comfort. It is when we are struggling most for control that we must realize that the great unknown will never be in our control and we have to, as the saying goes, “let go and let God” (we did have pithy sayings before there were memes…) It is when our lizard brain, appearing in the guise of fear and doubt, encourages self-interest that we are asked to give of our time, talent, treasure – but most of all, our attention – to others who are in need, especially to make praying for them a priority. This is why we together pray the Litany, as a blanket of Divine Protection across and beyond the bounds of our Parish, for those of our families and for those covered by those bounds who may worship in another tradition or not worship at all. We ask on behalf of our neighbors whom, after all, we are commanded to love even if we don’t know them.

I was asked to incorporate more quotes from “The Princess Bride,” so here we go. The Dread Pirate Roberts, now revealed as the Princess’ true love, asks, “Why didn’t you wait for me?” She replies, “Well, you were dead.” To which his response is, “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” And her answer, “I will never doubt again.”

As we look to the Feast Day commemorating the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven, consider the true love that Our Lord shares with us and shared with His Apostles. When Our Lord came to them in were they hid, He found them broken. Their world was undone. They were confused, lost, and fearful. And if He asked them why, they may well have responded, “Well, you were dead.” And of course Thomas would get the line, “I will never doubt again.” The Risen Lord walked with His chosen, talking with them, teaching them, and preparing them to carry on His ministry. He rebuilt their confidence and the strength of their belief because they had the evidence of their eyes to bolster them. And, just as they were rekindled, Our Lord let them know that He was going away again in a straight talk, no parables need apply session. All of His apprentices were about to be promoted to journeymen – and many of them were truly going to journey into the unknown. Is it any wonder that doubt started to creep back? “We trust you, Lord, but we’re not too sure about the world or ourselves.” And His answer – “I will send you backup and I will overcome the world. Yes, you can’t do it alone – but you will never be alone. Any other questions?”

The Apostles knew that their future was going to be challenging; tribulation was promised and expected. What Our Lord gave them was a support system, a divine “you got this” that let them know that they were well able to cope with the temporary trials of the world. Let your limbic system relax a little and go do good things. Change and unknowns and watchfulness abide, but so do faith and hope and love(, true love). As we ourselves look to the days ahead, let us pray first for the wisdom to rogare – to ask – wisely, and then let us ask the Lord for strength for all our journeys. For we understand that in Him, we have abiding peace, the peace that comes from knowing that Our Saviour’s true love is with us and that we can endure all things with that.

Almighty and most gracious God, shower your grace upon us, that we may have the courage to ask you for our deepest needs, the wisdom to ask fitly, and the faith to accept your will for us. Sustain us with the gift of your Spirit that we may more easily find and walk in your ways. And create in us hearts prepared to appreciate and be earnestly thankful for the blessings with which you fill our lives, that in all things we may truly give you honor and serve you in righteousness.