Listen to the Sermon.
My heart is full this morning. It’s one of those days when I really am grateful for so many blessings, among them: the gift and grace of my children, my husband who is my partner on this journey of life and parenting, the beauty of God’s mountains and water and flowers, walking with all of you through life’s joys and challenges, the beauty of our voices lifted together in worship. One of the things I’m really thankful for is that we have 6 more Sundays together. Every Sunday between now and the end of June has some sort of celebration planned, and I hope you will be here for as many of them as possible.
Three of the next six Sundays include significant farewells to the clergy who are currently active leaders in this congregation. Next Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, we send our deacon Mark out into the world for his next call. On June 10, we say good-bye to Beverly as she moves across the state. And, on June 24, my family and I say “a Dios” as you prepare to welcome Elizabeth and her family in July.
Farewells are never easy. Some of us would prefer to skip out on them altogether, and reappear for the fun stuff later. Having tried that option once or twice in life, I can attest that showing up, as hard as it is, and saying the important things to bring a relationship to a close, does make a difference in the long run. Proper farewells give us a chance to say the things we need to say to close a relationship without lingering regrets or things unsaid, and then to send one another on to whatever is next, with love and hope.
Farewells are very much part of today’s gospel reading. This prayer of Jesus for his disciples is the end of the farewell discourse, the after-dinner conversation at the Last Supper. Jesus knows he is leaving his disciples soon, in his death and resurrection, and in his eventual ascension. (By the way, the celebration of the Ascension was this past Thursday.)
Jesus’ final farewell includes three significant points: gratitude, forgiveness, and encouragement. Gratitude for their life together. Gratitude for the ministry they have begun together, the meals they have shared, for the friendships that have developed walking along the road from one place to the next. He expresses forgiveness. Forgiveness for all the hurts left unacknowledged, the ones inflicted and the ones received. And encouragement for the next movement of life. All three of these things happen in John’s telling of the Last Supper and the teaching that accompany it. In the moment, the disciples may not have grasped the full implications of what Jesus was telling them as he bid them farewell.
However, as much-later disciples of Jesus, we can learn from Jesus’ example of what makes a good-bye good. As with many moments in life, we can choose how deeply to engage in a good-bye. A ‘good’ good-bye takes courage and integrity, because it requires a celebration of the breadth of a relationship – both the celebrations and the disappointments. And our hopes for a future that is not together. As Christians, we believe that we will see one another again, someday, in this life or in the next. And, yet, that doesn’t release us from the responsibility to say good-bye well.
You might have heard that I am an English major (once and always), and I love the origins of words. Good-bye is a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye.” The original phrase “God be with ye” was a response to someone saying, “Fare thee well” when parting ways. Literally, take care of yourself, with the response God be with you.
In Spanish we say adios when leaving, adieu in French. Adios comes from “a Dios vias,” meaning ‘you are going to God’ or you are going to the Kingdom of Heaven. Adieu, literally ‘to God,’ is short for “I commend you to God.”
The word of parting I like best is the native Hawaiian aloha, which is used when arriving and when departing. Aloha means love. Love when I first see you, whether it has been minutes or years, and love when we leave one another, to carry with you until we meet again. Isn’t that the essence of the 3-part movement of gratitude, forgiveness, and encouragement, saying God be with you?
We start with gratitude, a deep love and appreciation for one another and for all that we have done, shared, celebrated, and lost, together. We need to share our gratitude, our love, for one another. To say it and to hear it. A shorthand to remember to say those things in gratitude: “I love you. Do you love me?” “I love you, too.” And there’s so much more to it.
The next part is forgiveness. Because in every relationship we experience disappointment. We have expectations that go unmet, and we fail to meet other people’s expectations. We hurt one another, intentionally or not. It’s part of human life. In love for one another, to part ways well, we need to acknowledge those disappointments, to mutually ask for and to give forgiveness. The shorthand for this step: “I forgive you. Do you forgive me?”
Love and forgive. If we can say those things before we part ways, we have loved with courage and integrity. If those two steps are the “fare well,” there is still the “God be with you.”
That’s the encouragement. When we share our hopes and wishes for one another before we part, we share our faith and our desire that God go with the other person, blessing and keeping them until we meet again. “God be with you” is a hopeful and forward-looking statement.
One way we show encouragement is to openly pray for one another - whether in our daily prayers, one on one, or in a formal farewell liturgy. Jesus, sitting with his friends, with his brothers and sisters, sharing a meal that may be their last time together, has already shown his love and forgiveness for them by humbly and tenderly washing their feet, and now he prays for them.
“I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (John 17.13b). “Protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). And, “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus prays his hopes and desires for the disciples, that they may have life lived fully and with joy, his joy. That they may be protected, strong in their own faith, and that they may be holy vessels of the Truth they have come to know, the life-changing news of God’s love and forgiveness. Talk about the ultimate prayer of encouragement!
As we offer our prayers to God this morning, in our prayers silent and spoken, in our voices raised together in song, in our bodies gathered around God’s table, and in our lives that carry the gospel to the world, let us pray for one another. Pray for courage and integrity, to say good good-byes, to speak our words of gratitude, forgiveness, and encouragement, so that we may be ready with open hearts and minds for the ministry God has in mind for us next.
Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.