A Liminal Place

Liminal is one of those great seminary buzzwords that a good priest will never utter in their congregation.  I like to think of myself as a decent priest, so I try not to say the word liminal out loud, but I feel like I can type it here on my blog.  Liminal is a fancy Latin transliteration that means “at the threshold.”  Basically, it means transitional, which, as we all know, means lots and lots of stress.  Heck, even changing rooms is enough to make our brains reset.

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This Sunday, the 7th Sunday of Easter, is a liminal place, even though most people won’t recognize it as such.  Thursday marks the Feast of the Ascension: the day, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection (according to Acts), when Jesus left his disciples staring slackjawed, as he rose to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  May 15th, then, will mark the Feast of Pentecost, 10 days after the ascension, and 50 days after Easter, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the upper room in power and might.  The 7th Sunday of Easter, then, sits smack in the middle – a liminal place in which Jesus is no longer on earth, but the Spirit has not arrived to kick start the spread of the Gospel.

There isn’t much in the lessons appointed for Easter 7c to clue you into this fact, but the Collect lifts of the theme quite nicely:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The Holy Spirit, promised to his disciples by Jesus, is called the Advocate, Counselor, Helper or in the King James Version, the Comforter (John 14.16).  For ten days, the disciples prayed, listening for God to give them direction.  For ten days, their anxiety no doubt grew and grew as they heard nothing in response.  For ten days, their comfort level decreased as they wondered once again if Jesus’ promise really would come true.

I suspect most of us can understand how the disciples felt in those 10 days.  Maybe Easter 7 is a good time to ponder those liminal places when it feels like God is far away; when the comforting Spirit of God seems absent; when stress and worry compound until it feels like our prayers are doing nothing more than hitting the ceiling and bouncing back to earth.  Maybe Easter 7 is a chance to take a deep breath and remember that the prayers we pray matter, that we really do believe that God will not leave us comfortless, and that even in the dark times, the Advocate, Spirit, Comforter is here to strengthen us for the road ahead.

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Complete Joy

Last week, while Jesus was still talking to his disciples (as opposed to talk to them under the auspices of talking to God), he told them these words, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  This week, Jesus is praying to his Father (with added commentary for his disciples) when he says, “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (John 17:13).  If last week’s promise seemed unimaginably hard to reach, this week’s is downright absurd.

I mean, come on!?!  The joy of Jesus made complete in us?  Clearly Jesus had never been a part of a church or had to pay a bill or gone to get his air conditioner looked at and walked away seven hours later with a brand-spanking-new car note (like I did yesterday).

I don’t find car buying to be a joyful event.

Joy is not a commodity much traded in these days, and even when we do find a way to be joyful even in difficult circumstances, that joy feels far from complete, fullfilled, or overflowing.

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that the key to understanding these two promises is knowing the one who made them.  On my own, I’ll never achieve joy.  Instead, I’ll chase after the hopeless pipe dreams of this world: fame, fortune, prestige and power; only to find myself frustrated at every turn.  If I place my trust in Jesus instead of this world, and follow the will of his Father, then soon I find that even when things aren’t going my way, there is peace and joy that abounds.  To paraphrase Psalm 23, even as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, my cup overflows with grace and mercy.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding is the source of true joy – complete joy.  It is not something I can find on my own, but comes from trust in the one who guarantees it: God Almighty: Father,  Son, and Holy Spirit.