Sometimes we experience our aloneness as an annoying, free-floating itch with no place to scratch and sometimes that aloneness is a deep yearning within us that will not let us rest. Often our aloneness gets heavy and is a burden made up of a thousand little irritations and frustrations that weigh us down.
That’s what Jesus’ followers felt after his resurrection—each were experiencing the pain of Jesus’ departure, each feeling a sense of loss at the death of their leader. Whoever else Jesus was, and whatever else he did, in a primary, continuing deep sense, he was the comforting presence and power in his disciples’ lives. And in today’s gospel lesson, we see him, once again, appearing to his friends. Luke tells us that “Jesus stood among these followers and said, “Peace be with you.” “Have you anything to eat?” He came to his disciples where they were, in their aloneness, and in their need for comfort.
You know, it’s all right to need to be comforted. But sometimes I feel a little ashamed when I need comfort. Someone should teach us that it is as blessed to receive comfort as it is to give comfort—that it is as human to need to be consoled as to console. Many of us are raised by our parents, or by some persuasion or by our professional education to be comforters of others. The Christian faith puts tremendous emphasis on that. We often find ourselves holding others rather than being held by others.
We become richer, warmer, more understanding, more compassionate and patient human beings when we understand and acknowledge our own need of receiving love as well as giving it.
In looking at the work and ministry of Jesus’ apostles, where did they and where to we, receive comfort in our lives today?
It’s God who comforts us through the comfort of a spouse, or a friend or a colleague or some special person.
Not long ago I was in a conversation with a person who told me of her fears of herself and her relationship with other people. But she was just beginning to have a friendship that was growing in a positive way. Several days later I received a note which said, “When I am with my friend, I feel cared for and protected as I never have before.”
We all need that kind of a friendship. And to me, one of the most poignant examples of this comfort is what Jesus does in the gospel. A man with no home, no wife, no children. Jesus, who himself walked through a lot of loneliness. And because of that fact, he understands your loneliness and mine. In Jesus, God is made tangible and available and vulnerable for us. He is in us, with us, for us—in our lives and our hearts and our lives together.
God comforts us also in the depths of our own inner being—in our private aloneness—that deep down aloneness.
A few years ago I was reading a book written by an Episcopal Bishop friend entitled Twentieth Century Spiritual Letters. In this book is a letter written by a young son to his father while still in college. Bishop John Coburn’s father had offered him a job in the family company, but the Bishop didn’t take the job—he went to seminary instead. After his fathers’ death, he wrote this:
“I hope, father, that you have forgiven me. I know you have. I knew you did long before you died. Oh, I know I disappointed you. But even when we disagreed about that job, I had a deep feeling, that in the bottom of your heart, you knew I had to be about my own decision, and that meant saying no to you. Thanks for that forgiveness.”Perhaps, all of us see in a fresh way, as we get older, how much we need to be reassured that we still matter to the people who matter to us. We watch the world, the church, our families, and friends going their own way, but we sometimes find ourselves wondering whether we matter much anymore. We need to know that we hold a special place in the hearts of the people who are special to us. We need to feel comforted.
In a book written by Rainer Maria Rilke called Letters to a Young Poet, the author says this:
“Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s intelligence, and away with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living.”That’s living from the inside out. That’s the comfort and the confidence that God is really in you and in me to sustain our spirits.
“While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you. “He promises that kind of comfort for you and for me. The question is—can we accept the comfort of God? If we can, then that is yet another miracle of the Easter faith.