(Acts 7:55-60 Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 1Peter 2:2-10 John 14:1-14)
One of the most heart-wrenching things I sometimes hear when a person is very sick and close to dying is the fear that when they are gone, eventually those who loved them will forget about them. It is one of those fears that is very real and probably present in all of us, to some degree. We all have a basic need to be connected, hence the explosion of the various social networks that are so very prevalent today.
I think that is why an article in The New York Times, several weeks ago caught my eye. It introduced a new phrase to me as it was talking about meaningful adjacencies.
Meaningful adjacencies—sounds like a great phrase to use when you’re playing Pictionary.
It turns out that’s how they are arranging the names on the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, being built on the site where the World Trade Center towers once stood in Lower Manhattan.
Meaningful adjacencies—this is the term being used to describe how the nearly 3000 names will be etched in bronze along the perimeters of the pools at the Memorial.
Originally, the names of the victims were going to be randomly engraved on the walls. After requests by families of the victims, it was decided that the names would be deliberately arranged in “meaningful adjacencies” that reflect either where victims were at their death, their work affiliations, or their personal relationships, if there were some.
The deeply emotional and meaningful part of this is that families wanted the arrangement of names to signify some connection for their loved ones. There was a desire, a longing for relationship even in death.
Meaningful adjacencies—it sounds like what the disciples—Thomas and Philip by name—were concerned about, and the assurance we hear from Jesus in today’s Gospel. It is all about being connected, and staying connected, not being “left behind,” if you will, once Jesus is gone.
We are hearing the very beginning of Jesus’ farewell speech given at the Last Supper. Jesus wants the disciples to be clear of their connection to him. In fact, Jesus will never be truly gone!
One of the reasons this is a favorite choice for a funeral service may be our very human need for this same assurance, of our connection with Jesus, even after death.
John 14 goes to the very heart of this concern. These words we hear are a warm embrace. They are comfort food, plain and simple. Committed Christian living is a hard one. When Jesus says, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life,” we know that way leads to the cross. It’s a life of commitment and purpose, and at least part of that commitment lies in knowing there are always difficult choices to be made.
Maybe that’s why John 14 begins with words of such comfort. Before we even begin, we are given the assurance of God’s grace and forgiveness. We are fortified for honesty, for the good works, the “greater works” we are called to live, even as we are comforted with assurance.
There is something inexpressibly calming about knowing that no matter what happens we have a place, somewhere that is waiting for us, a place that is ours.
We know that John’s Gospel was written during the latter part of the first century. It was written after the destruction of the Temple and much of Jerusalem. And we know this was a time of horror and violence and death. It was a time when life for the early Christian communities changed totally and forever.
These Christians saw endless destruction and violence; they saw terror in front of their eyes; they were people who knew and experienced disaster. And they were filled with fear that their connection with the Risen Christ had been broken, gone forever.
This Gospel was assurance to those communities not to be defined by the violence and horror they saw before them; not to be controlled by their fear of being abandoned by the very one in whom their young faith was still being nurtured.
This Gospel text was the call that, even when we are fearful that we will not be left alone, that we need not be defined by these fears; but rather, by the assurance and promise of unending relationship with the Risen Christ, even when such a connection is not clearly before us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me…trust that where I am you also may be….”
We began our worship this morning with the Thanksgiving for Baptism that we use at our funeral services. At a funeral service the Church shares the grief of those who mourn and remembers the brevity of life on earth. We also give voice to sorrow, thank God for our loved one, and entrust this companion of ours into the hands of God. Most often we do this by telling stories, often laughing and most often crying. In a very intimate way, we celebrate the life of God as revealed through the life of the person who has died.
But we always begin by giving thanks for our Baptism, trusting in God’s promise that we have been claimed by Christ forever. This is the most profound meaningful adjacency there is—our relation with Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We have been claimed forever!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled [even when it appears that I am gone]…I will come again and will take you to myself…. that where I am going, you also may be”
Meaningful adjacencies—the connections with each other and with the Risen One in this life that get us through the pain and anger and confusion; and finally, get us to the other side, being connected, living adjacent, next to, in a deeply meaningful way to the One, the only One, who gives meaning to our lives. Amen.