I spent the first part of this week and started writing this column in the hills of Burlingame, California. The beautiful locale was Mercy Convent and Retreat Center for a workshop on Clergy Peer Learning Groups as part of Luther Seminary’s Lilly Grant on the Strengthening of Christian Preaching. Much about this trip was revitalizing and enlivening. It was exciting to learn about the effectiveness of peer learning for clergy renewal and to get to know pastors from all over the country who are committed to facilitating clergy groups in their area. And, it was super fun to meet a Sermon Brainwave fan from San Diego! Yet, there was something else that was rejuvenating — being back in the Bay Area of San Francisco.
You see, that’s where I grew up. The bay, the air, the smells. The ocean, the dampness, the foliage. The eucalyptus trees, the palm trees. It made me feel alive. Do you know what I mean?
What makes you feel alive?
This seems like just the right question to ask for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, doesn’t it? What will keep reminding you of the resurrection? What will help you remember that resurrection is here and now. What Easter feeling will remain in your memory so that you can draw on it when you need it the most?
I think we need these kinds of moments — the kinds of moments when we feel alive, and fully. Why? Because Jesus is no longer in the world but we are (John 17:11). And we need reminders, any kind of reminders, many kinds of reminders, that resurrection is not just a one-time event, or only that which secures our future, but is a way of life. I think that’s exactly what Jesus is trying to say in this final prayer to God that the disciples get to overhear. It’s what they need to hear. It’s what we need to hear.
Because I wonder if the last Sunday of Easter is accompanied by a bit of melancholy for us preachers. After all, the radicalness of the resurrection will now give way to the long green season. The surprise of the tomb will transition into the expectedness of daily living. The extraordinary claim about life after death will soon seem like proclamation about life as usual.
I realize I am digressing some from the designated texts which, as many of you know, is unusual for me. But I think this is an important transition Sunday in the life of believers and in the life of preachers — lest life and ministry get too regular, too mundane, too mediocre in the season of Pentecost. Lest we overlook resurrection feelings, resurrection moments, resurrection experiences going forward because Easter seems too far in the past to make a difference anymore.
This Sunday seems to suggest that we need to take seriously what it feels like to be alive. That it’s in these moments that we come as close as we can to resurrection life here and now. Then, maybe resurrection will actually mean something for your parishioners beyond their security of a mansion in heaven. Then, maybe resurrection will actually mean something for you beyond a third person statement of supposed belief — “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
Jesus prays that we recognize, that we know, that we feel, that resurrection is a way of life, a way of being in life, and not just his localized appearance in a garden, or in a locked room, or on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Why? Because our life here and now depends on it. Jesus wants us to live a life that is alive with resurrection, abundant with it, in fact. Because that’s what grace upon grace is all about.
During the workshop, one of the worship services used a prayer by David Slater that I want to share with you. Why? Because it’s a prayer we preachers should pray daily. Why else? Because it keeps alive the truth that resurrection preaching, resurrection ministry, resurrection life, really matters — that it really makes a difference.
This is a dangerous profession,
breaking bread and proclaiming it Body,
opening the Word and calling it Life,
sending infants to a watery grave,
and calling it resurrection,
asking those with a 50% chance of regrets
to promise “forever,”
burying the dead in the sure and certain
hope of eternal life.
Trading in words and acts that can, and often do,
transform is unnerving.
You ask yourself: did my eloquence, my sincerity,
my understanding nature produce this?
But the Almighty has few untainted saints on either
side of the pulpit.
And so, for the sake of the other sinners,
chooses to work through the likes of you.
(You remember that from time to time, and pray for mercy.)