February 11, 2018 – The United Churches
”A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of God in my name, God will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
This is the fifth and the last sermon in our series on Caring. We started with Caring for the oppressed, then we did caring for those who are alone, caring for caregivers, caring through social media and today we will talk about caring for those in transition.
I imagine if I ask you to think about transitions that you have been through, you can think of so many! Perhaps you’ve lost a job, or started a new one, or had a birth in the family, or had children leave home. Maybe you have moved, or started a new grade, or endured a stroke. Perhaps your boyfriend broke up with you, or you graduated high school or lost a home, or your spouse died. Maybe your family got a new pet, or your hamster died or you started a new program. A transition is the process of change. We use the word in so many ways. We use it to describe our lives, to talk about movement in writing and in music. Transitions are important, life giving, and inevitable as well as painful and difficult. If we read a book, or listen to music that has no transitions, we die of boredom. If we are faced with a transition, we can be excited, scared, invigorated and depressed…but we are not usually bored.
In this passage from the gospel of John, Jesus is explaining an upcoming transition to his disciples. This snippet that we read is part three of a long farewell speech that Jesus is giving to his disciples before his impending death. The gospel of John was written decades after Jesus died, long after the letters in the New Testament and the other gospels. The stories and instructions that we find here were handed down from grandparents to grandchildren, collected in community and written down. Imagine sitting down to write to your children and grandchildren sage advice that you heard from your elders. You might be tempted to put it into one very long speech, and that is what we have here. Jesus is explaining to his disciples the upcoming transition that they will have to endure.
My daughter Megan did a masterful job in her effort to prepare her daughter Alex for the transition to kindergarten. Alex had been with a loving day care provider named Sonja for years. Megan feared that the transition would be a big one and she wanted to help Alex feel as secure as possible. She talked about kindergarten. They started going to the play yard at the elementary school as a family so Alex could get used to the space. They even had a few family picnic dinners on the school grounds. Before school started they went and had a meeting with Alex’s teacher. They rehearsed what would happen at school, and what would happen afterward.
The day care provider gave Alex a big send off. There were presents and a lot of talk about being a big girl and finally starting Kindergarten. There was a lot of groundwork laid for this impending transition. Even so, when we brought her to family camp at Pilgrim Firs before school started, when Grandpa asked about starting Kindergarten, she said she “didn’t want to talk about it.” Now, she loves school and her parents can be applauded for doing everything they could to ease the transition.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, and he sounds in this telling a little cagey about it. ”A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” What the heck? They really don’t understand, so they try to talk it out with one another. I know that you all have had many such conversations with others when you are trying so hard to figure out what is going on. My sister just told me that she is moving to Alaska. What? Why would anyone move to Alaska in their 60’s? What the heck? My brother, my mother, my kids and I are all scratching our heads, talking with one another…what does this mean? Jesus comes to the rescue and explains to them that they have this period before death, and another period after the death when they will see him, when they will feel secure, but there will be this big middle in the transition that will be just down right painful.
Transitions, as William Bridges (who wrote the book on Transitions)says is a three part process. You begin with: the ending, losing, or letting go; then there is a middle he calls the Neutral zone, and they have another side: the new beginning.
In the case of granddaughter Alex the ending was the end of daycare in the loving home of Sonja with a little group of children she had known for years. The middle was the anticipation and anxiety of the upcoming change: starting a new school, and the other side was the new beginning of Kindergarten which is mostly fabulous unless the person you really want to play with you doesn’t want to play with you and then it’s painful again.
For the disciples, they had their beloved leader with them providing guidance, love, community, instruction, solace, hope and promise and this was coming to an end. Jesus was pointing toward the pain and trauma to come, when he would be tortured and killed, rise to new life and then leave them (the neutral zone) and then the other side would be the empowering presence of the Spirit, helping the disciples to carry on the work at their full potential, doing amazing and miraculous things!
Just like Megan prepared Alex for an upcoming transition, Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for their upcoming transition by laying the ground work so they would know what to expect. He says to them: “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
I don’t know about you, but I love that Jesus walks them through this upcoming painful event by telling them about what a woman goes through in childbirth. All the “mansplaining” aside, I always love it when we find feminine imagery in the gospel to explain important truths. Women who are my age and younger had the benefit of childbirth classes prior to giving birth so that we could be walked through this impending transition in our lives. It may have even sounded like Jesus puts it here: Your pain will turn to so much joy that you won’t remember the pain. My memory must be better than most if that is the case.
Here is a snippet from a woman friend who recently gave birth about the process: “We went into the clinic to get checked because the contractions were becoming unbearable. We were sent home due to being only 1.5cm dilated and “pretty” effaced. Upon arriving home, the contractions were about 4-5 minutes apart and lasting 3 minutes each. The pain was constant. I couldn’t walk, talk, or stand up. The pain made me throw up. About two hours later we were back at the hospital in triage. I was in too much pain to be checked for dilation. Though I had planned for an unmedicated birth, I decided to get narcotic IV meds to reduce the pain to a manageable level. The pain was not reduced much. Two hours later I was transferred to labor and delivery and my water broke; I decided to get an epidural for pain management. It completely numbed all the pain. I couldn’t feel contractions at all anymore… I was about 4.5cm dilated at that point. The nurse and midwife let us know that there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. They were concerned that our baby would breathe it in during delivery so we also had to have a NICU doctor come in and possibly intubate her. SCARY. We then waited and rested until I was completely dilated and effaced. At 1:00am I began pushing. I pushed for an hour but the baby didn’t move down. I rested for another hour. Then I pushed for 2.5 more hours. I threw up, changed positions, and just kept pushing. The baby was stuck and we had no other choice than to get a C-section.”
This friend continued to throw up throughout the surgery and was in a lot of pain in the days following the birth. The baby is healthy and well and a true source of joy for her family, but it was a very difficult transition that involved tremendous pain and some postpartum depression.
I share this because it is a little more detailed way to retell Jesus’ story about pain preceding joy. Jesus’ version is a little watered down in the telling. Transitions are REALLY, REALLY hard sometimes and it may take a long time to connect with the joy.
How can we care for those who are going through transitions? During the “Ending, Losing and Letting Go” part, we can recognize all of the feelings that someone might have: fear, denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, frustration, uncertainty, grief. We need to listen to one another with empathy and caring. If invited to, we could share our experience going through a similar transition without giving advice. We can be supportive and encouraging and present, reminding others that they are not alone. If we are a parent we might help our children anticipate a transition by trying to walk them through it before it happens and reassure them that we will be there for support.
During the period of the neutral zone, the bridge between the old and the new, friends may be experiencing some of the same feelings, or perhaps resentment, skepticism, or anxiety about the change. It can also be a time of creativity and renewal. To provide care you could continue to support them, listen to them and encourage them. You might have some resources to offer. If necessary, you might encourage professional help. Sometimes transitions are so very difficult that we need therapy.
When the transition shifts to the new beginning, it could be a time of new energy, openness, or renewed commitment. It could be exciting and it could be scary. You can offer care by continuing to support and listen.
Don’t push people through a change process, do what you can to be supportive. Ask the person to whom you are offering care if you can pray with them or for them and ask them what they want to pray for. In this way they have a chance to think about what they want or need and hold it in prayer. Jesus ends this section of instructions by telling the disciples: “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” As we go though transitions, we rely on our faith and we can rely on prayer.
Transitions are inevitable in life. They are even sought after: when we have children and when we ask for a promotion or move in with a beloved partner. Sometimes they happen to us unbidden. We as people of faith can support one another, we can pray, we can laugh and cry together. And we can take courage, because going through transitions help us to become more fully who we are meant to be.