I don’t know. Truly, I don’t know the answer to that question, not exactly. And neither do you. Not exactly. Because what’s next hasn’t happened yet. That’s why it’s called “next.”
I’m not trying to be flippant, just precise. We can, sometimes, predict what’s going to happen in a general way. We may even feel the confidence of knowing that things seemed to have happened they way we thought they would, good or bad. But the fact is, given the universe full of variables in each and every moment of time as we experience it, things never happen exactly as we predicted, do they? Because the moment, in the linear way in which we perceive time, hasn’t happened yet.
That’s not to say we don’t try to make things happen a certain way, of course we do. That’s how we go forward on our life journey. Simply put, we “do.” And sometimes we embrace the journey forward with joy and sometimes we fear it. Sometimes, maybe a little of both. But one of those things is life-giving and the other isn’t.
I’m pondering that this week while I sit in a meeting of the local region of my church. We’re discussing - and voting on - the steps our national church is taking to restructure and re-energize this institution we call the church. There’s a lot of anxiety. People are worried about the future.
You’ll know the feeling. Maybe not about the church, but you’ll know the feeling. Who hasn’t, at some point, worried about what was going to happen next? And especially if you fear that something that’s important to you, something or someone you love, something that you’ve been a part of, is threatened or might come to an end, you know this feeling.
Well that’s the scene in John’s gospel when the disciples are all gathered around Jesus for the Passover meal that last night before he died. It begins in John 13:1 with “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world.” It includes that moment Jesus washes the disciples feet to show them how important it is to serve others: “for I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” It includes that last supper Jesus shared with a diverse group of disciples, with both Judas, his betrayer, and Peter, the one who promises to follow, but who will soon deny knowing him.
It includes that moment I talked about last week when Jesus challenges the disciples to love one another just as he has shown them to do. Those aren’t words of comfort, they’re a call to action. This is how you follow me, he says. And I think Jesus knew exactly how hard that was going to be for them to do and how hard the world was going to make it for them to do. And the same goes for us. Like I said before, let’s acknowledge that’s hard and that we fail often but we are always and forever called to try.
And if Jesus had left it right there, we - and the disciples - might be tempted to say “gosh, thanks Jesus for dropping that on us and leaving.” But Jesus doesn’t.
There are words of comfort and inspiration and a promise of support. When I’m gone, Jesus says, the Holy Spirit will come and be with you and will teach you and lead you and remind you of all that I taught you. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
I don’t know what’s next for the church but I believe that we are not alone. We should love each other as Jesus showed us and whatever happens, the Spirit will be with us and we should not be afraid.
I don’t know what’s next for the world or for my little corner of it or for me or you. But whatever happens, I believe that we are not alone. As complex and challenging as life may be, it is only life-giving if it’s lived well. The Spirit will be with us and we should not be afraid.