April 2, 2017
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
I was out of town over the weekend, and when I came back to my hotel room Saturday I turned on the radio. And Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was playing, the first movement, with that slow rise and fall of those few simple notes, maybe the most beautiful music ever written.
And suddenly I had the strongest memory of my mother playing the Moonlight Sonata on the piano in the living room, on a summer night, and of sitting on the front porch in the dark and listening to her through the screen door, and of just being filled with the beauty of it, and the sadness, and I was again, in that hotel room, by an airport.
It was one of those moments we all have when we are moved by the mystery of things, when we feel the presence of God.
We believe in heaven because we’ve been there. We believe in the afterlife because now and then we are taken out of ourselves, and we feel something, and we know something, and we come to believe that what we feel and know is greater than we are, is God. And God is God. If he exists in us now, we will exist in him forever. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,” as St. Paul puts it, “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” It’s a kind of proof.
But it only works if we’re alive now.
A study was done recently in which people were asked what they would rather have: a broken bone or a broken phone.
46% said: bone. And the researchers thought some of the others were lying.
When I asked my classes this question one of my students asked me, “which bone?”
On average we spend three hours a day on our phones. We pick them up an average 47 times.
Ten years ago, before the I Pad and the I Phone, a study was done in which it was determined that the average attention span of an adult is 12 seconds.
This year the study was done again and the average attention span was 8 seconds.
The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.
They know this: they hold an image up before the fishbowl and time how long the fish looks at it.
We have attention spans shorter than that of a goldfish.
I get these statistics from a new book, by Adam Alter: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.
Yes, the Spirit dwells in us, but we’ve buried it: in the tomb of our technologies, in the tomb of our addictions, in the tomb of our sinfulness. We are all Lazarus and we are all rotting and only the Lord can save us.
And he comes to our tombs, and he raises his arms, and he cries, “Come Out!” But we don’t. We’re too busy texting. Or we do, but we’re still looking down as we stumble towards him, scrolling through Facebook.
Or we walk out, and we look up, and for a moment we’re alive again.
But then the 8 seconds are up. We’re bored. We move on to the next thing.
But I know a young woman who was abused by her uncle growing up and had buried her trauma, hadn’t told anybody about it. For years she carried this around, this death, this dying, until finally she had the courage to go into therapy and do the hard work of therapy, and to admit the abuse and to face the abuse, and finally even her parents, who hadn’t believed her at first, who couldn’t understand what had happened, they came to therapy with her, too, and together they’ve rolled back the stone, slowly, they’ve dealt with the abuse, over time, and now this person who was born into the world with God’s love and God’s grace inside her, as we all are, with the Spirit inside her, can feel that Spirit again, can walk freely in the world, scarred but fully alive.
I know a young man who has decided that he can’t ignore what he sees as the injustice and the oppression in the world around him, can’t pretend that everything is OK, and so is studying the facts and getting involved and serving the poor and the outcast in concrete ways. He has risen from the tomb of his indifference.
William Barry describes prayer as “a long, loving look at the real.” But sometimes we don’t want to go into that light. It’s too bright. We prefer the darkness of the tomb. No one bothers us there.
But not this young man. He has heard the voice of God and he has responded. He has broken out.
I was talking to an older woman the other day about angels and about wings. I was saying that it makes sense to me that the Spirit of God would be symbolized by a dove, because that’s the way the moments are. They’re fleeting. They’re hard to pin down.
And she said that when she was pregnant with her first child, when she first started to feel the baby kick, it felt to her like a fluttering.
It would come and it would go, she said.
And it was like wings. Tiny wings.
We have to be born again, Jesus tells Nicodemus in the beginning of John. We have to come out of that darkness and into the light. But in his Farewell Discourse at the end of John Jesus changes the metaphor. You have sadness now, he says, but soon you will have joy. You are like the mother, in the pains of labor, in that suffering, but soon you will know the joy of having given birth, and that’s what it is we’re all called to do, as adults: to bring things to light.
And when we do, when we’re sitting in a hotel room near an airport, and we hear the Moonlight Sonata, and we feel the sadness of it and the beauty, and we remember our mother and the front porch and the summer night, we are not just remembering something in the past, and we’re not just experiencing something in that moment. We’re tasting what it is to come. For in God there is no past and there is no future, there is only now, and in him and through him, finally, that moment is a moment of tenderness, and gentleness, and almost unbearable joy.