I Will Not Leave You Orphaned
During this period of sheltering in place, my family has been revisiting the Harry Potter series. My husband and children are listening on audiobook as they wander around the house; We are slowly working our way through the movie series. It’s fun to return to a series from a previous time in our shared life, Especially since it has such a fun premise:
Harry Potter, a boy orphaned by the evil wizard Voldemort, through trials and tributations,
finds his identity and destiny.
It’s a classic storyline, actually. Orphans are protagonists in many folktales and stories from children’s literature. Consider Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White, Peter Pan and Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and Huckleberry Finn. Without the guidance of parents, these orphans must forge their own path to find out who they really are.
Literature about orphans is probably also a safe place from which to view a fundamental human fear: The fear of abandonment. It reminds me of a paleontologist who once explained the common four year old’s fascination with dinosaurs: They are big, scary, and – most important—extinct.
The fact that dinosaurs are no longer here means that a four year old can try on
the terror and awe of such a huge creature, without being overwhelmed.
Likewise, a storybook character that overcomes being left alone in the world
Allows children and adults to explore the fundamental solitude of the human condition
Without being swallowed up by loneliness or despair.
The fear of abandonment figures in our Gospel lesson today, too.
The story begins on Jesus’ last night with his disciples.
During the meal, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away.
The disciples anxiously ask questions: where are you going?
How will we know the way without you?
Already they were feeling scared at the prospect of being alone.
They had been with Jesus for three years, following him everywhere he went,
Learning from his teaching, gaining strength from his strength.
They depended on his direction and defense.
And now, just as conflict with the political and religious leadership was peaking,
Jesus was talking about leaving them.
So Jesus promised them: 18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”
What a relief that must have been!
The disciples had a real and present need for something to hold onto;
They needed ongoing instruction and support.
At least if Jesus had to leave, but he was going to return.
But the way Jesus was coming back to the disciples was going to be different.
“I will ask the Father,” Jesus said, and he will give you another Advocate, to with you forever.”
In his stead he sending the Holy Spirit, who is the comforter/counsellor/advocate/spirit of truth
Who will remind them of all Jesus had said and taught
Who will continue to teach the disciples about Jesus
And will always be with them, never to leave them.
And in a way, this is better than before
Because as a human being, Jesus could only be in one place at a time.
He could only help a limited number of people at one time.
His life had an end. He was finite.
But now with the gift of the Holy Spirit, this help is available in and through all of us.
All the time.
We are not alone, and we have Jesus’ power.
It’s why Jesus said in the passage just before this, which we heard last week:
“The one who believes in me … will do greater works than [me], for I am going to the Father.”
I recently read a book that illustrated the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus within us
that is our comforter, advocate, and friend.
It’s called Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994. During a 100 day killing spree 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutu majority.
Immaculee survived by huddling in a bathroom with 6 other women.
Take a moment to meet Immaculee.
The book tells the history of Rwanda and story of Immaculee’s family
But to me it is really a story about Immaculee’s prayer life.
Under these dangerous and desperate conditions, Immaculee’s relationship with God flourished.
She spent all her waking hours in prayer, and despite the squalor, hopelessness, and constant fear,
When she was in that special place in her heart where she communicated with God
Immaculee felt at peace, loved to her core, safe.
But Immaculee wasn’t safe.
Hutu militias regularly searched the house where she was hiding.
The rest of her family was somewhere out where the killers were.
She retreated to her prayer place in her heart, and entrusted them to God’s care.
But one night Immaculee had a powerful dream.
Jesus appeared to her, lovingly gazing upon her, and he said
“When you leave this room, you will find that almost everyone you know and love is and gone.
“I am here to tell you not to fear. You will not be alone--- I will be with you.
“I will be your family.”
“I will be your family.”
To me, that is what Jesus is saying to his disciples in our scripture today:
Though the circumstances of life may leave you feeling alone, scared, or despairing, I am with you.
You are not an orphan.
You are my family, and I am your family.
I ponder these words in the depths of my heart
Because there are a lot of people who feel abandoned right now:
Abandoned by friends or family, by the government, by the church, even – maybe especially-- by God.
It is easy to feel forgotten when the phone doesn’t ring,
When you feel your life is on hold or crashing in on you.
But Jesus’ spirit, the Holy Spirit, lives in us—not just the disciples long ago.
We are his family, and he is ours.
We are not orphans.
We are not alone.
Because we have this assurance and strength of Jesus’ ongoing presence through the Holy Spirit
we have the power to become a sign of Christ’s presence to others.
Friday night I went down to Grace for the grab and go meal they serve.
There are arrows everywhere for social distancing, and everyone has to wear a mask to come in.
It’s harder to survive than it used to be.
I can see it on people’s faces, even underneath the masks.
But as people come in, one at time, into the building, they are greeted warmly, often by name.
There is a little check in conversation and then
Folks pick up basics for bodily care that SM provides—soap and toilet paper
They go down the hall and receive a bag with their hot meal inside,
And they head out the door.
It can seem like such small that we are doing:
making masks and donating toilet paper
Picking up the phone or sending a letter
Covering for an employee who is overwhelmed trying to home school young children and work from home
Trying to be a little more patient with those we meet or live with.
But being at Grace reminded me these small things really aren’t small
A tone of voice or a simple gesture can communicate the most important thing:
That no one is an orphan to God
That everyone has a place in God’s family
That we see and notice someone who might otherwise have felt forgotten.
May the Holy Spirit, the comforter and advocate who is always with us
Continue to use us to be a sign of Jesus’ promise to all: “I will not leave you orphaned.”