Holy Monday – How to Say Goodbye

This sermon is a part of our Community-wide Holy Week Special Services that we have done for years in collaboration with the First United Methodist Church in San Saba. The text for the sermon was Luke 22:21-38. It was given on Holy Monday, March 25th, 2013. May it inspire your ministry, whatever it is.

God Be With Ye

They were old friends from their college years, and these two held tightly on to their friendship all the way into old age. Through marriages, children, and careers, even though they lived more than 800 miles apart, they managed to speak to each other on the phone every single day for 50 years. Until one day, one man called and the other did not answer. He had died the night before of a terminal illness that he’d never mentioned to his friend. The other old man talked to his son that day, about what had happened, and his son was surprised to hear that he wasn’t upset. Saying goodbye can be difficult. The next morning the son received the following one-sentence email: “What do you say after you’ve said goodbye?”[1]

The word goodbye comes from the phrase, “God be with ye,” which over the years faded into our shortened version of that sentiment. Kurt Vonnegut wrote that “goodbye is the emptiest yet fullest of all human messages.” I know what he means. Saying goodbye can be difficult even under the best of circumstances, but all the more so when death looms over the precedings like a bailiff waiting to take the prisoner away.

The passage we just read is part of the Farewell Discourse of Jesus in the book of Luke. Like a good farewell speech in those times, Jesus tells the disciples of his impending death, he gives his final instructions to his disciples on earth, warns them of the challenges ahead, and gives them consolation for what will come.

He warns them about his betrayal, about lording their authority over each other, about failing in times of crisis. Of course this is exactly what happened in the early church. The sheep and the wolves broke bread together. Jockeying for place and power interfered with the message. Their strongest leaders failed at the most critical junctures, and the path that lay ahead was fraught with danger.

One of the biggest mistakes that we can make when we look at the disciples, is to say, “They didn’t understand…” as if we do, and have somehow managed to avoid the pitfalls of discipleship that they have shown to us in their failures.

I wish I could tell you that the church had overcome any of these things, that we have said goodbye to the struggles and misunderstandings of our past. But of course, they remain with us, and thus Jesus’ words hang on to their significance.

One can imagine what it must have been like for the disciples when they finally realized that Jesus had been saying goodbye. It must have been heartrending to see the man they loved, the one who had loved them so much and had treated them as family, be taken away by the soldiers. It seems to have hit Peter the hardest. When the others flee, he can’t seem to get himself to go, he is drawn, like a moth to the flame, following the soldiers as they take Jesus to the high priests. It is in that context that his denials occur, the sudden realization that goodbye has gone, and the unanswered question of what to do now.

I wonder how long it took the disciples to remember who He was. I wonder how long it was before some of them got together and remembered what had happened at his birth, that an angel had come to Joseph and said that he will be called “Immanuel,” which means God is with us.  I wonder how long it took them to realize that Jesus’ goodbye means exactly what it once did, “God is with you,” even, as it says in Matthew, to the end of the age. I wonder how long it took them to be reminded of that goodbye, and begin to serve each other instead of trying to be served, to acknowledge their own betrayals and seek forgiveness through repentance, to stand up to the power of evil with humility and love?

I wonder how long it will take us?

[1] Feiler, Bruce “Exit Lines” The New York Times, 28 Dec. 2012: nytimes.com Web. 25 Mar. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/fashion/finding-the-words-or-not-to-say-goodbye.html?pagewanted=all


About Drew

I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pitman, NJ. I love camping, rhetorical criticism, and classic movies. I'm passionate about God's love, and the messy, beautiful ways it shows itself in our communities every day.
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