The Long Goodbye – back to the wilderness

I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye.  Sometimes less is more.  At least that is what I have always told myself.  And on that note, you might think I should probably give up trying.  John’s Gospel however is rather a different case.  We have chapters devoted to what has been called the ‘farewell discourse’.  We’ve been reading from them in the past few weeks and now we come towards the end of these chapters in John’s Gospel.  They don’t come at the end of the gospel of course, but immediately after the Last Supper and before the arrest and trial of Jesus.  Jesus is portrayed in John’s account praying for well, pretty much everyone before he is to go to his death.  But in our christian year we have just remembered his ascension this last Thursday.  Now Jesus is truly gone from their sight and the disciples look for the coming of the Holy Spirit which was promised to them by Jesus.  And of course we celebrate that at pentecost next week.  But for now, they are without – rudderless.  I like the way the lectionary attempts to tie things up for us, using this opportunity to remember the calling of Mathias to replace Judas as one of the twelve.  It makes everything fit neatly together as if once Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples got down to the business of electing the first church wardens and PCC members, some of whom my colleagues would have me believe have been serving since that very day.  However what the text does not seem to allow us – mores the pity I feel, is to express the isolation and desperation that must have abounded as the disciples attempted to make sense of what was happening.  I guess the lectionary and those who wrote it wanted to emphasise that life is continuing in the absence of Jesus, that we are fine because he is praying for us and we should carry on with the task bestowed upon us.  I would like to think that we are a little tougher than that.  I would like to think we can cope with a bit more, that our faith allows us to see and feel more of the frustration. I would like to suggest that a little of the feelings of isolation, abandonment and desperation might not be such a bad thing, all be it in small doses.
Our three year lectionary cycle in in Year ‘B’.  For the most part we follow the Gospel of Mark and as you know even the longer ending of Mark ends short and to the point.  But the ending was abrupt.  Everything was going so well, what did we do wrong, why do things have to change?  Jesus was changing lives and confronting those who denied others life.  He was challenging the system to make a better society, some said he would overthrow the whole Roman occupation.  But they called him a rebel and a troublemaker and they got rid of him before he could upset their carefully constructed institutions.  We should feel the separation and the desperation that the disciples felt.  Then there are two options.  We can become lost in the wilderness of the world and lose our way forward.  Or we can rise with new strength in the power of the spirit and follow the calling of Mathias to join the strength of the disciples and to become witnesses to these things.  On the pilgrimage trail, the Asaph pilgrims reached Enlli yesterday and for the fifth year in a row made it across to the island.  My friends from wrexham, walking to Enlli have just reached Llanberis – I missed seeing them yesterday, but they too are walking in the power of the spirit to carry them to Enlli.  It is a journey of life to walk on pilgrimage.  Richard reflected on walking through bluebell strewn woods in the company of the Cucoo – have I died and gone to heaven?  Walking the path of Jesus has its highs as well as its lows.  I’ll have to disagree with the English translation of Williams great hymn, though we are certainly guided by our redeemer, this land is anything but barren, but it can be a wilderness – a place where God is to be found.

Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch,
Fi, bererin gwael ei wedd,
Nad oes ynof nerth na bywyd
Fel yn gorwedd yn y bedd:
Hollalluog, Hollalluog,
Ydyw’r Un a’m cwyd i’r lan.
Ydyw’r Un a’m cwyd i’r lan