Sermon - 12th May 2013
Scripture - Luke 24:44-53; John 14:1-14
Rev Andy Braunston
REM’s song Everybody Hurts was released 20 years ago in April 1993 as a single and got to number 7 in the UK charts. In 1995 the Samaritans used the song, played with just their phone number, to let people know of their crisis intervention service and, according to the Performing Rights Society it is at the top of their list of songs which, and I quote, “make real men cry”. I’m not quite sure how they gathered the data for that bit of research!
It has been said that it’s the most depressing song ever, but I find it rather comforting with its assurance that to be human is to experience hurt, and that a good response is to hang on for better times and take comfort in your friends. There is something deeply Christian in the idea that we’re not alone: that someone is there. We know that God is present in our darkest times, as well as the good times, and brings us comfort and hope of a better world.
We all have had the experience of the complex set of emotions that happen when someone leaves. We have all had the pain of a relationship break up, the pain of bereavement, the pain of a friend moving on – either physically or emotionally. It is horrible. We hurt. Sometimes when we hurt it is like a physical pain in us but, unlike physical pain, we can’t take some painkillers and hope it goes away. Emotional pain is, sadly, a condition of being human and we all respond to that pain in different ways.
Because it’s part of our human condition we can empathise with the disciples when faced with the Ascension – the feast the Church marked on Thursday and which many congregations observe today. It marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and his ascension into heaven forty days after his resurrection and ten days before the festival of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples. Aside from the theological meanings of Ascension, it is a group of friends who have to say goodbye, again, to Jesus who was, again, leaving them.
During the first Holy Week they had experienced the highs and lows of life unlike anything else they had known. They had seen the crowds brim over with near revolutionary joy and fervour as Jesus entered Jerusalem, clearly fulfilling ancient prophecy and showing what a true King was in direct, and fatal, opposition to the imperial might of Rome.
They must have experienced fear when Jesus turned the tables and raged in the Temple. This was a different aspect of Jesus; he made deadly enemies because of this and they must have feared for him and for themselves. Then after the intimacy of the Last Supper and the reality of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ trial and cruel death must have hit them hard. To be betrayed is another all-too-regular human experience but when that betrayal leads to death it is terrible.
Then to see Jesus suffer and die must have been dreadful. There would have been guilt – after all most of the disciples ran off and weren’t even there at his death; and Peter had even denied knowing him. There would have been anger that they couldn’t have done anything to help, and there would have been that dreadful feeling of shock, emptiness and confusion that comes when one we love dies.
The events of Easter Sunday overshadow Good Friday and it is easy, with our knowledge of the end of the story, to forget how dreadfully shocking Jesus’ death must have been to his friends. The joy of Easter took away the pain of Good Friday but now, forty days later, the disciples are faced again with Jesus’ departure. This time, however, he is a little more descriptive. We have a number of passages in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke about the Ascension. Let’s listen now to Luke’s version.
[Reading: Luke 24:44-53]
In this, things are pretty straightforward – Jesus announces his departure, it happens, the disciples rejoice. I’m not sure sure that Luke is telling the whole story. He is editing various sources some 40 or so years after the events he describes. There must have been some confusion amongst the disciples, some sense of “oh no” and some sense of bereavement again. As we listen to the following reading from St John we get a sense of all this.
Reading: John 14:1-14]
It’s not explicit in St John that this is about the Ascension but you have the sense of Jesus reassuring his friends that he needs to go, that his mission is finished, and that it’s over to them now. He implies that he needs to go to finish his mission – he uses the metaphor of getting rooms ready.
So the disciples knew that Jesus had to go. That may have made the pain of parting easier to cope with, but pain there would have been.
The Pain of Parting
Many of us relate to REM’s song because it gives comfort when we experience pain. Our life is full of pain – unlike earlier generations we talk about it and deal with it differently. I grew up learning traditional Catholic prayers and singing traditional Catholic songs. These often referred to life as a “vale of tears”. Fewer people, however, went to therapy. Now we try to hide the pain of life - or dull it with all the other things we can do: but more go to therapy which makes me think that perhaps a little more acknowledgement that life can be difficult, painful and not perfect would be good for us.
Sometimes the pain is of our own making. Sometimes we make choices which lead to pain – we may go out with people who are bad for us – believing that any relationship is better than no relationship. We may act in ways in relationships which both cause pain or make pain more likely. We may choose to live our lives in ways which bring about pain. But often the pain we feel has nothing to do with choices we make.
When relationships break up there is always pain – if the relationship end was not what we wanted, then that pain can be so much worse. When someone dies the pain can be dreadful for those who mourn and it takes time, grace, and gentleness to start to move on and make sense of life again. Many of us know the pain of exile – of having to leave our own land because of fear and persecution and then having to forge a new life here in the face of social and political hostility.
The secular song, Everybody Hurts, shows a fact that most people instinctively get – we’re not alone. It’s not just about friends, but about God. As Christians we affirm God’s loving presence in our world; but we also affirm that the coming Kingdom is a place where there is no more death, no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears. It is a place of justice, a place of freedom, a place of sanctuary. It isn’t pie in the sky, it’s not a future for generations to come – it’s for us. We are both heralds of its coming and inheritors of this Kingdom because of our faith in Jesus.