You may have noticed a pattern these last few weeks in the titles and emphases for Dear Working Preacher. “Resurrection is…” and so far, the possibilities have included relationship, abundance, protection, and love. This week? Resurrection is companionship.
Why companionship? The Gospel reading from John is one of the major passages where the paraclete is introduced — the one who is called to be by your side. The disciples will not be left alone or be left orphaned. The one who walks alongside them now will still be known in the paraclete which will be breathed into them by the resurrected Christ (John 20:22). The primary reason for the gift of the Spirit is so that the disciples might experience the presence of Jesus in his absence. The resurrection, all well and good, still means the departure of Jesus. And one extraordinary gift of the incarnation is knowing a kind of companionship for which we all long and desperately need.
The readings from Revelation and from Acts might also point to the theme of companionship: “And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).” And, “Come and stay at my home,” says Lydia (Acts 16:15). I think that a characteristic of living a resurrection life is the need for and the invitation to companionship. One truth of the resurrection is that companionship is secured.
The resurrection of Jesus promises lifelong companionship with Jesus and with God. Resurrection is that which secures companionship when only isolation and separation seemed the likely result. What difference might this make for what difference the resurrection makes? I wonder to what extent our fear of death is not a fear of tombs or graves or urns but that there just might be some consciousness of being alone. Notice that so much of our resurrection imagination is reunion — that we will be with our loved ones again. We are not meant to live companionless. Yet so many of us do.
According to online Merriam-Webster, companionship is “the good feeling that comes from being with someone else.” This criterion is worth some reflection. I’d like to think that the good feeling Jesus is going for has to do with the reason for the incarnation in the first place. I sense that many of us think we have companions. But having someone to do things with is not the same as experiencing a good feeling from being with that someone.
In the words of Prince, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” That’s one reason for companionship. Getting through life is no small task. And true companionship is a kind of accompaniment that helps us live with a resurrection perspective.
I have no doubt that people in our pews are longing for companionship. Perhaps, it’s even the reason they are coming to church. And, what do we offer? True companionship? Or some sort of watered down equivalent? Antonyms for companionship include discord, divorce, hostility, separation, antagonism, strangeness. I suspect that our people know these feelings better than they know the true friendship and accompaniment of companionship. Are we representatives for and embodiments of this kind of companionship? Because Jesus seems to suggest that part of what the resurrection means is the kind of companionship that is real. That will not go away. Certainly, this is what the Samaritan woman at the well needed. With five husbands either dying on her or divorcing her, Jesus offers her companionship with him that is true and real and will not go away.
And dearest Working Preacher. Are you in need of companionship? Can you hear this sermon for yourself as much as you need to preach it for others? The preaching life is a lonely life, an isolating life. You know this. But who are your true companions?
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” (African Proverb).
The need for companionship is as basic, perhaps, as the need for that which keeps us alive. That is, in part, John’s point. The resurrection promises future companionship for us — with God, with Jesus, with each other. But if the incarnation is true, that companionship promised in resurrection has to be known here and now. Delayed companionship does little to make it known, yet I wonder how many of us are satisfied with companionship that we think might come in our future knowing full well it is not an experience in our present.
True companionship is hard to find, friends. Where we hope for it, it fails us. Where we trusted in it, it deserts us. Where we count on it, it leaves us. But the truth of the resurrection? Companionship for life.