The Rev. Celal J. Kamran
I speak to you in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.
I want to share a personal story from when I was young and having a hard time. I was having a hard time in school and at home. Worse yet, I felt far away from God and from my church community. I felt adrift. And one night believe it or not I had a vision. It was not a vision of Biblical proportions, like Ezekiel’s vision of Divine Beings, or Isaiah’s vision of the throne room, or John’s vision in our Revelation reading of the world remade.
In my encounter I felt taken up from by bed where I lay, physically and corporally into the sky, past my room, past the clouds, past the stars into the nebulous beyond. And in this nebulous beyond I felt the Divine presence all around me, encompassing me. And the Divine presence felt warm yet electric. From there I received the words not spoken but reverberated into me: “It is okay, I am with you”. “It is okay, I am with you”. And with that I fell from the beyond, past, the stars, the clouds, and into my room. I awoke with a deep sense of security, peace and calm the words for which I do not have.
Those words, “it is okay, I am with you” were exactly what I needed to hear in that rough patch. It was not right away that everything was made better or that my troubles disappeared. That did happen but slowly and over time the rough patch did pass. Still what pulled me through was knowing that God is with me. And these words “it is okay, I am with you” have comforted me since… I have not shared this story with a lot of people, but I know that this has been a cornerstone in my discernment, making me into who I am today. And I do believe that this is in line with how I view God to be for all of us.
God with us is the purpose of the incarnation of God into the world in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. And even before that, the people of God longed to be close to God, to know God and longed for God to lead them. Through the wandering in the desert the people yearned for God to be near them, so God resided in a tent to be with his people at all times. And God went with them through their wanderings, there conflicts and into the promised land. And God resided with his people in God’s temple in the Holy of Holies when the people had settled in the Holy Land.
And it was thought that only there that God resided in creation. But when God became human, when God became flesh that incarnation seeped into creation. God remade the fabric of creation when God imbedded Godself into it. First in the making of the world and then being born into the world connecting creation and creator forever. See because of Jesus “I am with you” takes on a whole new meaning. Because when God the son says I am with you, he is physically incarnate in flesh with humanity. “I am with you” becomes even richer with Christ. And that is what Immanuel means, God with us. God does not reside in particular places anymore or just in the heavens or in another nebulous realm but here with us. In a particular time and place we can point to and say yes Jesus, son of God was here.
Therefore, the first believers hearing from God himself saying I am with you was so important to them. It comforted them and showed the fulfilment of the Divine promise made to their ancestors. And that promise caused them to follow Christ not only in his ministry but to the cross and beyond… In this Easter season we remember that as we follow Christ from the cross to the grave, to resurrection and eventually ascension into heaven. And so it was for the early believers. Just like where we are today, waiting for Christ to come again, so too were the first believers, waiting. But they started to doubt. They started to wonder if Christ had left them for good. That God with us was no longer true. Christ had resurrected yes but following his ascension it is understandable that the early Christians had their doubts. Some even believed that Christ would be coming back any day. But as the days turned into years, and persecution came and went, the followers of the Way started wondering, if Christ’s “I am with you” came and went along with Christ.
This is particularly true for the community of John from whom we received the Gospel. They were second generation Christians living in a secluded community waiting for Christ to come back any day. And as they continued to wait, they pondered the idea of God with us in the saying of Jesus having to do with the Holy Spirit. The spirit that Christ left with us in his stead.
And it is right here in this Gospel that we receive some of the richest descriptions of the Holy Spirit. Of the Holy Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, our teacher and so forth. This is the gift of God, to God’s communities who wait. The Spirit who drifted over the water of the deep in creation, is the same spirit that Jesus promises to leave behind. So that in his absence, God is still with us.
And Christ although not physically present can still be accessed. When we take part in communion, we ask the Holy Spirit in her mystical work to make our gifts into Christ’s body. We ask the Holy Spirit to bless and unite us to each other and to Christ. So that God can be with us in the Sacrament and in community.
See we are not alone. We have each other and we have access to God with us. So remember that in your troubles, your hardships, your trials. That God was and is with us. Embedded in us to secure, comfort and calm beyond what words can describe.
Let it be so.