Over the number of years that I have had the privilege of being alive, I, like all of you, have had many and varied experiences which have shaped who I am. Each experience has influenced my choices in life and my responses to those choices which circumstances handed to me. Through all these experiences I have discovered that one of the greatest challenges any one of us can encounter is having to face those experiences of life alone. I am sure that all of you are aware that there is a great difference between being alone and being lonely. A person can be lonely even in the midst of a crowd of people and yet be perfectly content being alone.
As an only child most of my social interaction occurred outside of my home environment with the exception of course of the interaction I had with my parents. Not having siblings I had to learn how my peers interacted socially by watching others. I would observe my cousins, my friends with their siblings and attempt to see how best to form and foster relationships with them. Not a small challenge and one which at times I found confusing and frustrating to say the least. At those times I would retreat to the safety of my home and spend long hours reading or going for bike rides in the summer. I even managed to play board games like Monopoly by myself and lose. Yes, I am very honest, not perfect, but honest.
Over the years I continued to have good interactions with others at school, at church and community groups where I shared common interests. Not being particularly gifted when it came to sports, I shied away from a lot of involvement in such things - particularly team sports.I much preferred activities with a focus on the arts and so found music and languages most enjoyable.
Interestingly enough, even though my father seemed to think that I should be more involved in social activities and have a wider circle of friends, I was perfectly happy with the choices I had made and was comfortable being on my own. In fact, I believe I would probably have made a good hermit, not that I plan on being one. Yet, even though I have spent many hours by myself or pursuing solo activities and have not had the benefit of being part of a larger family, I have never felt lonely.
Being part of a small family, the passing of my parents marked a significant point in my life. For the first time in my life I could not call home because home in the childhood sense no longer existed. But I must say that I have a wonderful mother-in-law who, when my mother passed away, told me that she would be happy for me to consider her to be my mother. I have found her to be such a wonderful support to me and I know that I will always cherish her reaching out to me.
Significant people in our lives are with us for a time and then they leave us and pass to another world. While they are with us, we strive to cherish them, honour them, respect them, love them and seek to be as much a part of each other’s life as we possibly can. In this modern world we live in, that is not always easy. I do not have the opportunity for a lot of contact with my own sons and their families except through Skype and phone calls and yet I am connected to them in so many ways. These connections we have to one another are bonds formed in our hearts and spirits and nothing in heaven or earth can separate them from us.
Jesus’ disciples had spent three years of their lives following Him, learning from Him, watching Him and being totally supported by Him. They had never had to do anything on their own. He was always there to correct their mistakes, get them out of tight situations and ready to listen to all their thoughts and musings. But now things were going to be different. He was talking of leaving them. The events related in the Gospel story today are from John’s account of the night before the crucifixion of Jesus. He has gathered the disciples for one last meal at which time he speaks to them of many things including the fact that He will be leaving them. I can only imagine the panic that must have gone through their minds. They had seen the opposition that Jesus had faced and were well aware of the fact that He could handle anything but if he left, what would happen to them, how could they handle the opposition, how could they continue the work he had started? I can only imagine the sinking feeling of abandonment that must have rushed over them.
But Jesus reassures them. Even though he will leave, they will not be alone. God the Father will send the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, who will teach them all they need to know and help them to remember all that he has shared with them. They will not have to face anything on their own. Jesus knows that even talking of leaving will cause distress to the disciples and so he encourages them to not let their hearts be troubled nor be afraid. They will have him with them in the form of the Holy Spirit of God. And so, it is that he can say to them with all confidence: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Peace, a word that should bring a calming to our souls, which should give us a sense of hope and a future. Indeed that is what the peace Christ gives does. Not as the world gives for the peace the world offers is simply a break from hostility, envy, greed, pride and arrogance waiting for a more opportune time to attack again. No, the peace of Christ is a peace that passes all understanding for it is a peace given by the Creator to the very heart of that which He has created. No one else can give this kind of peace for it is not theirs to give. That peace of God enables us to face everything life throws at us with the confidence that we never live this life alone. Our love for God and our willingness to be His people and live according to His words, which are food for our souls, reveals to us how much we are loved by God our Father and we learn that we have a home with Him.
Before I finish today, I would like us to reflect on one more truth. People called by God to faith and to follow God’s commandments and live as people of faith have ever been faced with challenging situations in their lives and have had to make difficult decisions. Many times, they felt that they were alone. But the reality they – like us – were surrounded by others who were experiencing the same or similar challenges. Each of the disciples no doubt wondered if they could live up to the expectations Jesus had for them. And on their own, they probably would have failed. But they were bound together by their relationship with Jesus and that relationship was to encourage them to know that they could share their fears and insecurities with one another and find strength in each other’s company. But right along with that, they would all have the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to guide and encourage them.
The gift of community that we are to experience in the church is a reminder to each one of us that there should never be a time when we feel truly alone in the worst imaginable sense of that word. For even when we cannot get a hold of someone else in the community when we need prayer or support or encouragement or wisdom, we know that the gift of the Holy Spirit of God is there for us and that we can find peace even in our deepest and darkest moments of life. The world might find us at times alone but the reality for Christians is much different. In reality there are always at least two - one seen by the world and one unseen yet very real. Be encouraged in your life and know that in every circumstance, in every place you go that you are not alone. You never were and you never will be!
Thanks be to God.