The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
transcribed by Gaile E. Zimmer
Let us pray: O thou who camest from above, the fire celestial to impart, kindle a flame of sacred love upon the altars of our hearts. Amen.
“Jesus said to his disciples, if you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will ask the Father and he will send another advocate to be with you forever. You know him because he abides with you and he will be in you.”
Those words from today’s Gospel lesson are part of the teaching that Jesus engaged in with his disciples at the Last Supper. In the Gospel of John it’s known as “Jesus’ Final Discourse.” They were the things that Jesus wanted most to teach his disciples so that they would remember and that they would live into it when Jesus was no longer present with them. Part of what he was saying was teaching, but part of it was also reassuring: that even though Jesus would no longer physically be present, God would send another advocate to be with them forever.
The word advocate is translated differently depending on which version of the Bible one uses, but the Greek word is paraclete, and that word is translated alternatively as advocate, comforter, counselor, and helper. There’s not one English word that adequately captures the breadth of the understanding of the Paraclete. The most accurate translation is actually “one to come alongside you.” Imagine that. Think of the imagery. God’s own abiding presence, walking right alongside you, in good times, in bad times, in confusing times, and in times of conflict—ready and available to guide you, comfort you, help you, and advocate for you.
In the Christian Church we understand this as the giving of the Holy Spirit, something that we will celebrate in two weeks, known to us as Pentecost, in the gift of God’s abiding presence to us through the Holy Spirit. In the Final Discourse, Jesus goes on to say, “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That is the sacrificial love of Christ. It somehow seems appropriate on this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, when we remember those who have gone before us and sacrificed and those who are bravely serving on the front lines today, that we reflect on self-sacrificial love. I know that for some of us the juxtaposition of war and peace in a church is an uneasy one, and I think that that’s understandable. For those of us who are Christians, we remember that Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”
What does it mean to be a peacemaker and how do we do that? How do we live into that? I think part of the answer is in remembering. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would come and remind you of all that I said to you. One of the most profound sermons I ever heard was that we basically live in a constant cycle of remembering and forgetting. A philosopher once wrote that if we do not remember our past, we are doomed to repeat it. We do that in this National Cathedral day after day. If you look around the history and the story of our faith is represented in the windows, the architecture, our worship, and our liturgy. After the sermon shortly, Dean Lloyd will be presiding at the Eucharist when he will do what Jesus called us to do in the blessing of the bread and the wine: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
This Cathedral convenes leaders across the world, religious leaders, trying to lift up mutual understanding, respect, reconciliation, and peacemaking. Through the advances of technology, several hundred people are watching the service, right now, live, all across the world, part of this worshiping community of faith, as we all wrestle with what it means to be a peacemaker in this complex and complicated time. One of the privileges I have as vicar of the Cathedral is that I know some of your stories, and I’d like to share one with you this morning. I have permission to do so from the person about whom I’m about to speak.
Several of our congregation members are serving overseas in very troubled spots. One of the ways that they stay connected with us is through the live web-streaming of these services, the symposiums we have, and the lectures that we offer to try and lift up reconciliation and peace in a complex world. One member of the congregation, who was preparing to be deployed to a place that he described as a very bad neighborhood in the world, wanted to meet with me to have a serious conversation. He asked me things such as: Jan, do you believe in eternal life? Jan, what do you think God really means about forgiveness? What about a God that we understand to be all-powerful in the face of evil, catastrophes, and disasters in the world?
These were not random intellectual musings. These were real questions, tough questions, seeking the eternal truths. This soldier wanted to get to know me better, and me to get to know him better, because he shared with me that he knew that there was a possibility that the next time we met might be at Arlington National Cemetery.
There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. After World War II, the War Memorial Chapel, which is just to my left, was built. Within it are symbols of freedom and the struggle and sacrifice in pursuit of the same. The imagery harkens back to Moses freeing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It walks through the story of struggle, faith, and freedom. I think my favorite image in that chapel depicts a true story from World War II.
In 1943, a troop ship by the name of the Dorchester was torpedoed and was sinking. There weren’t enough life jackets for everyone on board. There were four chaplains on that ship: a Roman Catholic priest, a Methodist minister, a minister from the Reformed Church, and a Rabbi. Those four chaplains stood on the deck and passed out life jackets to everyone, including their own life jackets, because there weren’t enough. The survivors of that sunken ship reported that as the ship was continuing to sink, those four chaplains joined hands and sang.
There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. We gather this weekend to remember, to give thanks to those who have gone before us, to pray for those who are currently serving, and to continue to wrestle with what it means to live loving one another as Christ loved us.
Lest we forget, we will remember them. Amen.