Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

With that proclamation,
God in Christ Jesus makes a promise
to his disciples then,
and to us, now.

Promises that though he will be
subjected to a rigged trial,
and crucified;
promises that though he will be gone,
God in Christ Jesus will remain with the disciples.
Is still with us, today.
God in Christ Jesus’ presence is critical.
Christ heals the sick.
Reaches out to people neglected by society.
Embraces those no religion had ever embraced.

God in Christ Jesus’ presence is critical.
To the wellbeing of the disciples.
To the wellbeing of the communities he changed.
To the wellbeing of our own community,
our city, our nation, our world.

God in Christ Jesus makes a promise.
Promises that, though death will take him;
promises that, though resurrection leads to ascension,
and a return to God the Father;
promises that though he is gone,
God in Christ Jesus remains.

It’s an important promise.
Not with us in the Santa Claus sort of way:
The “sees you when you’re sleeping.
Knows when you’re away.
Knows if you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake,” sort of way.

But with us
because it is frightening for anyone to be alone.
Even more frightening
when you are doing all sorts of good things
for other people,
and people with power,
people with privilege,
people with their own agendas,
threaten to take you and your good work down.

The disciples knew that threat well.
Experienced the deadliness of that threat
with Jesus’ own death on a cross;
and with the deaths of other early Christians
at the hands of the Romans.
God in Christ Jesus makes a promise,
an important promise:
even in the face of such threat,
even in the the midst of it,
God in Christ Jesus is with us
so that neither you nor I,
no one need be afraid.

Which is a bold,
if not unbelievable, promise.

Just look at the fear permeating our society.
We’ve become suspicious of just about everyone.
Our words and ways with one another
push us to do all sorts of things,
heartless things and thoughtless things
that otherwise thoughtful and heartful people defend.

Fear is powerful.
Because fear is erosive and self-perpetuating.

It drives us away from one another.
Which is a truly distorted twist.
Because the very antidote to fear
is engaging one another.
Building trust between one another.
Here’s the thing.
A century ago, a half-century ago,
for all its many problems,
our society was shaped by people
with lots of opportunity to engage one another.

Everywhere from book clubs and bookstores and libraries,
to civic organizations like the Rotary Club and VFWs.
Theatre troupes and arts organizations.
Churches, synagogues, mosques,
and other religious organizations.

If you want to see that sort of engagement chiseled in stone,
take a look at the donor list for the building of Lincoln Center,
or any of our City’s many museums,
our public buildings,
and our houses of worship.
This engagement is true
across organizations that hold our social fabric together.

Yes, there’s corporate and big family money,
but there are a lot of individual donors, too.
Far more than comparable projects taken on today.
I do not long for days gone by.
I can’t, actually.
I was born and raised entirely on the downside
of the life of these public institutions.

Though I cannot and largely would not long for days gone by,
my concern is the value of
being together,
working together,
sustaining community together.

And that’s something we need to cultivate in our own time.
Because the ways in which we interact with one another.
The experiences we have with one another
on Facebook and Twitter,
at the gym and in yoga classes,
are all temporary interactions.
They are good for us,
but lack the value of sustained human interaction,
particularly with those who are different from us,
Interaction we so very much need.
Did our
grandparents and great-grandparents
disagree with their neighbors and friends?

But they didn’t act in the ways toward one another we do today.
Precisely because they participated
in the building up of society with one another.

Have those who served in government always debated?

But they once functioned together
as legislative, executive, and judiciary bodies,
precisely because sustained relationships
helped build trust and respect.

What did Senator Ted Cruz say the other day?
He’d spent no more than a few minutes
with the former Speaker of the House.
I don’t know precisely what the value of being together
will look like in our day and age.
What it will look like tomorrow.
Or 20 years from now.
But I do know this,
We need it.

We need to stop allowing fear to drive us away from one another.
And choose — make a conscious choice — to come together,
and be together.
and dialogue together,
and commit ourselves to each other.

The alternative is perilous for the human family,
an increasingly fractured society
and ever-more pronounced division between us.
And the planet we all call home.
My guess is —
Actually, my conviction is —
this promise of God in Christ Jesus
is critical to our coming together.

I am with you, Jesus says.
And that makes all the difference in the world.

With you as you engage someone you disagree with.
With you as you hold someone in tender embrace.
With you as you risk everything for the sake of love.

With you in peace.
With you in confidence that overcomes fear.

Saint John calls that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.

Where two or three are gathered, another Gospel writer says.
There, I am in the midst of you.
Which makes our gathering,
this assembly, so important.

We do not simply come here,
we do not simply gather together here
for our own good.
To be nourished.
To be inspired.
To find respite.
To be rejuvenated.

Yes, those are all good things.
But the most important part of our gathering,
the most important part of this assembly,
is that brought together by God,
God’s promise of being with us is being kept today.

Look around,
and behold exactly what fear of being alone
would want to drive out — you, and me.

But, look around,
and see what fear cannot drive out:
one another, each beloved children of God.
Jesus calls us the very body of Christ.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
still with us.

And that, dear friends,
has been the point of the church from the very being.
And it is the point of the church today.

None of us can fix this world around us alone.
But together,
together as the body of Christ,
witnessing to when two or three are gathered,
witnessing to when even enemies sit at table with one another
witnessing to the power of presence, and sustained relationship,
the eternal word made flesh is made flesh always in us.
God’s promise in the beginning.
God’s promises to the disciples.
God’s promise to us and to our children’s children.

The promise that in spite of all else,
we believe, and we embody,
that very thing which casts out fear,
casts out the fear of being alone,
embody not for our own sake,
but for the sake of this world of ours that:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter’s Church
In the City of New York

May 1, 2016 — Jazz Vespers

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:1, 22—22:5
Saint John 14:23-29