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Just Keep Swimming

5A Easter

7 May 2023


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In Finding Nemo, Dory, the loyal but challenged fish, with her inability to form new memories, knows one song: Just Keep Swimming. It is a song about persevering, something she was taught by her parents, whom she has not seen since she was a fry. The song is all she has. In one scene she enters water filled with toxins released by jellyfish and gets through by repeating the mantra over and over. She is single-minded in her desire to find and save Nemo.

I wish I had that single mindedness!! I am currently enrolled in an online course on monasticism. A tenet of Benedictine monasticism, and of other Christian monastic orders, is to remain focused on one thing: the way that Jesus taught. It is learning to sit with God and then go into the world living as Jesus taught us: with love and service. It is also to let go of all that truly does not give you life.

I have said (perhaps too many times) I do not believe in Christian exclusionism, which is one way these verses are sometimes cited and misused. Jesus was too good for that; one of the themes for Eastertide is to ask and answer the question of what this means for me. One needs be mindful that those hearing the words of John’s Gospel were people who had been expelled from the synagogue, Jewish Christians, who were feeling isolation and despair and wondering, perhaps, if they had chosen the right path in following Jesus.

The reading begins just after Jesus has just told his followers he was leaving them and that he would die; he now sits with them. They sit together in a circle, on the ground, with Jesus speaking softly and tenderly to those followers, people he loves and will love to the end. I have memories of sitting with friends, just likt this, around a campfire or a dinner table, having intimate conversations, where fears are shared and our souls are nourished. He promises them a home, an eternal home and, as he does it for them, he does it for us. If we have experienced Jesus, he says, we have experienced God.

The most beautiful part of this reading is when Jesus tells his followers, and us, that he is the way, the way of life. We will all have a room in the house, none of us will be left outside and unprotected. By his example, by his very existence, he brings to us the gift of life, not in the sense of never dying, but in the sense of finding, as Maya Angelou said, the hope and the dream.

The Way becomes not a journey of following rules, but one of living fully into our potential as a person and as a community. Yet those sitting in the circle remained fearful and doubtful and still failed to understand. Look, says Jesus, I have been with you all this time and you see how I live and teach and heal. That is why I am the Way. I am not a gatekeeper; I don’t hold a scorecard. In me you live and breathe and have meaning.

Sadly Thomas, the disciple who legend says went to the west coast of India with the good news, raises the issue of not knowing, having no clue, where Jesus is going. And Phillip of not knowing anything about God, as if he needs a missing person description. Maybe Jesus felt at that point a bit like a teacher with a student who, no matter how you presented the material, just didn’t get it. I remember trying to grasp calculus; it took a very long time. I feel for Thomas, Phillip, and the others; they had to be truly terrified of what was coming and now they felt completely abandoned. But Jesus makes it clear: you know me; you know God. We never met Jesus, but we still can, if we want, know him. We know him by prayer, by dwelling in the silence. We know him by breaking bread with one another. We know him by music, poetry, and beauty. But more than any other way, we know him by love. Thomas, Thomas, all you need to do is love one another. All any of us need to do is love.

This is a passage that is not a threat to either the disciples or to us, but rather a love letter to all of us. Jesus is offering his followers an entry point into a community of shalom. Our English word “peace” does not do justice to the concept of shalom. Shalom does not mean the absence of war, but rather a wholeness of all creation. Think on it!! If we practice that radical, inclusive love, the one early followers called The Way, and are willing to give our all for it, shalom for the world comes to us.

We need to take from scripture the bread we need for today. For some it may be a call inward, to tend to the nurturing of your personal wellbeing. For others it may be a call outward into the world. Jesus says I will feed you, care for you, and be with you always. Remember that he promised that the disciples would not be left alone; we are not left alone. We have the Spirit that will dwell in each of us.

Look around you; the shades of blue and green and the explosion of colors found in flora and fauna. See God at work all around you and know that God is at work within you.

Tomorrow is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, author of the oldest know English language writings from the pen of a woman. Julian (her birth name is not known; she is called by the saint of the church is which she lived) saw that God was in everything, that everything was sacred.

And in this he showed me a little thing the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, “It is all that is made.”

I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness.

And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.

+ Julian of Norwich

Remember, then: God made us, God loves us, God will keep us.

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