I can still remember preaching my very first sermon as a postulant. Queen’s college students in the ordination program were assigned Sunday parish placements. I was sent to the university to join the chaplaincy “community.” Picture my first visit to the office: a nervous young man entering a narrow room filled with younger students. I realized I wasn’t as young as I thought, and the words “here’s the flunkie from Queens!” rang out. I began my time trying to figure out what I might have in common with this community.
Regular Sunday worship at Queen’s chapel wasn’t what I’d expected either. The gathered community was not totally comprised of university students. In fact, many of the students who frequented the chaplaincy office area at the Student Center, didn’t attend chapel worship at all, but many others from the outside community did. I invested time throughout my whole student assignment trying to figure out what these diverse expressions might have in common. Of course, all of my cogitations (love that word!) were formed out of my own life experiences.
I’ll go back to that first sermon. Standing in the middle of the Chapel, I began with the “in the Name of the Father, and of the…” formula. It’s a safe start for those who are nervous and afraid to pray. Then I offered as an introduction, “Today is my first sermon as a postulant. So, with you, I begin my ministry of proclaiming the Word.” Perhaps it was an appeal for mercy. The smiles and affirmations were warm.
That’s the only thing I remember about delivering the first sermon, other than the feeling that I wasn’t connected and had no business preaching to this community.
Long before I was ordained, I was a student of life—one who had many confusing and tumultuous ups and downs. Ever since I was ordained, as a student of biblical text and a preacher, I have searched, and will continue to search for connections, or to use a fancier word, correlations between things. To guide me, I turn to the story of Jesus. I turn to his invitation to a resurrection reality that was not an event in history, but a revelation that takes place in the hearts of believers every single day.
When we read the story of Jesus, his pattern of connecting people to each other is at the core of his work. We call this the Incarnation and the Atonement, connecting us was his work in birth, growing up, teaching, healing, death, and resurrection. Yes, it took work for people to make these connections. Some people didn’t. The disciples certainly had a lot to work out. The teacher had died, was emptied and cruelly disposed of. What’s more, in the “eyes of the unwise” he seemed to have given up. Like a lamb to slaughter: a God dying, exhausted, and defeated, dying on a cross. Oh what questions they had! Oh how far from realizing that he chose to empty himself as an evidence of love. There is a starting point for the connections we seek.
The story of the Church: early beginnings, worship, persecution, councils and creeds, tells the story of a community in search of correlation. What are you searching for in this COVID-19 age? What connections do you need to find?
The resurrection story is meant for us to have a common place from which each of us may start. Easter’s first glance is an empty one. Look inside the grave. It’s empty. It is an invitation to start with the impossible, realize that you know nothing but your own longing for connection, truth and meaning.
If you listen closely, you will hear the voice of one you think is the gardener, softly calling your name.
When you hear it, go with him. It is Jesus. He will show you the connections you need, and you won’t be alone. Many of us will be sharing the journey with you.
Isaiah 65 offers:
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
Many, many, blessings for Easter and beyond.
+John, Central Newfoundland