During the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus urges his disciples to "not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." (John 14:27) It's part of a larger teaching that he's trying to offer them, with which he's trying to help prepare them by articulating the complicated nature of leave-taking and homecoming in the life of faith. It's only by "going away" from his students and friends that Christ can come to them. (John 14:28) It's only in loving that we become lovable in the divine sense. Peace finds its fulfillment in leaving and giving. Identities resist any neat delineation, even in the midst of the telling--let alone the experience.
No wonder the disciples struggle to understand! No wonder Jesus has to repeat the perennial greeting of God's messengers throughout the Bible ("Fear not!") to even begin to reveal the fellowship that he's offering his community. I don't know about you, but I often find my heart troubled, even afraid, no matter what I hope to let it do or not do. Keeping his word can feel like an impossible task. We may love his words, but we also forget again and again and again that there is any way to give other than that of the world. We forget what Jesus has said almost as quickly as he tells us. As much as we hope to welcome the Father home, we struggle to even recognize the Son.
But the Triune life is one of grace. Our God knows us down to even what W.H. Auden--a good Anglican--calls our "crooked heart."* Even as we forget, even as we fail to recognize, God enters in. An Advocate is sent to us, and we are reminded again and again and again what we might be. We are taught what it means to live a life that the Divine might call home. The task might still sometimes feel impossible, we might still sometimes find our hearts troubled, but the Holy Spirit moves among us. The Holy Spirit is our spirit. As often as we go away, we are given the opportunity to return--and sometimes where we return to appears nothing like what we thought we had left.
So, even as we welcome the Rev. Anne Marie Richards and her family home this Sunday, listen for Christ's words. Listen for invitations to leave-takings and homecomings known and unknown, done and undone. Try to hold both the fear and the joy lightly, because greater things are coming. And peace runs on.
*From his poem "As I Walked Out One Evening"