You Will Not Be Orphaned
(5th Easter – John 14.15-21)
Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned . . . because I live, you also will live.” (John 14.18a, 19b)
Happy Mother’s Day.
It is meet and right that we honor motherhood both in our families and in church. Because motherhood embodies so much of what Jesus Christ embodies – unconditional love.
So again, Happy Mother’s Day.
Jesus said, “You will not be orphaned.”
What an appropriate verse to read on Mother’s Day. Because it demonstrates for us how similar Christ’s love for us is like that of a loving parent. A love that lives in us, even when that person is out of sight, or gone to the next life. A love that abides in us always.
John refers to the “abiding love” of Christ in several places in his gospel. And two things seem to be part of this abiding love.
One, it is tied to a specific action on our part – the keeping of God’s commandments. And 2, it comes to us through the working of the Holy Spirit, or the Paraclete, as John refers to it in Greek. We will deal with Jesus’ the commandments next week in similar verses. This week let’s look at how the love of Christ remains present to us even after his death. How the Paraclete continues the work of Jesus – of keeping the love of God present to us.
And as Jesus often demonstrated, stories are usually the best way to try to understand the mysteries of God. So I also have a story today. It is about a man named Ed.
Ed’s story actually starts a little over two years ago. He was a chemical engineer, living in Friendswood, and he worked in Houston. So Ed commuted up I-45, every day.
On this particular morning, he left before 7 o’clock as usual. Everything was just as it was every morning. But as he came over a rise near downtown, and he saw that the traffic was stopped ahead of him. He hit his brakes and stopped – but one look in his rearview mirror told him that the car behind him was not going to make it.
Sure enough, the car slammed into him from behind, and his car came to rest in the inside lane about 50 or 60 feet in front of the car that hit him. Ed was wearing his seatbelt and felt like he could get out OK, so he put got his insurance papers out of the glove box and put them in his briefcase; opened his door; and stepped out.
Now he was in a location on the highway where there are these pairs of large cement dividers between the lanes and there is a space between them to make room for the large columns that support the HOV lane that was directly overhead.
Ed figured the safest way back to talk to the other driver was between those cement dividers. So he stepped over the barrier by his car and began to walk back to the other car. He got just a few paces from his car when he realized that something was wrong - very, very wrong. His first thought was that he was having a heart attach because he lost feeling in his limbs and there was a sharp pain in his chest.
And he knew that he was going to fall. So he tried to wave and get the other motorist’s attention at the same time that he swung his briefcase out in front of him.
When he collapsed, the side of his head landed on the briefcase. And he ended up lying on his right side, with his head resting on the briefcase, and his face about 18 inches from the concrete barrier.
Ed tried to get up, but nothing would move. And that was when he realized that he was completely paralyzed from the head down. Except for being able to wiggle three of his fingers on his left hand, nothing else worked. And that included his diaphragm. So he could not yell. He was barely able to get his voice louder than a whisper.
Certainly a scary situation to be in, but he stayed calm. Sure that he would be rescued soon. But the wreckers came and cleared the other car. Then they cleared his car without noticing Ed. The police came and wrote up the report. They asked the other motorist where Ed was. The guy shrugged and said, “I don’t know – I saw him get out of his car, but then he just disappeared.”
So an hour or two after the accident, all signs of that it ever happen were completely gone, and Ed is still laying there between the barricades, virtually invisible to the tens of thousands of cars that were speeding by a few feet from his face.
Then he started to panic. He had been praying of course – but now he really prayed. As the sun got higher in the sky and the concrete began to heat up, he prayed that someone would find him soon.
And as he prayed he notice a shape in the concrete that was being formed by the changing shadows. At first it just looked like a circle. But the more he looked at it, the more clearly he could see the lines in it that he recognized as the host communion wafer from his many years in the Catholic Church. And as he studied that form of Christ’s body, he had this vision in which he could clearly hear God’s voice. And that voice promised him three things. The first was that he would be rescued – not to lose hope. The second was that major job changes would come in his family’s life. The third was that he needed to tell his story to a priest.
That voice of God was really important for Ed. Because as he lay on that place between the lanes of I-45, he might as well have been an orphan. His loved ones were absolutely frantic when they heard that his car was in an accident but he had not shown up at a hospital. They had no idea where to look for him, and the authorities were no help. They were convinced that he had fled the scene. So the hot afternoon turned into a chilly night, and Ed continued to lie on his concrete bed. He slept very little – his teeth were literally chattering too hard for him to even doze off. He held on to his vision and God’s promises, but as morning dawned, he began to doubt that he would be found alive.
But the Holy Spirit was not to be denied. It seems that a man named Mr. Rodriquez had been traveling in the other direction (southbound on I-45) at the time of the accident. And he saw Ed fall. That night when he returned home from work, he tried to look for him but could not see anything from his car. The same thing the next morning.
But that image he had of Ed’s face – contorted in agony – just before he fell, just would not get out of his head. He felt like he had to know for sure. And he had this unmistakable feeling that God was telling him to look harder.
So he did. After work on the second day, he got his son to meet him. Then he stood up in the back of his pickup truck and had his son drive on I-45 in the area where he thought that he had seen Ed fall. Once going north. Back again going south. Nothing. But he had his son try one more time. And finally on that third try, Mr. Rodriquez finally saw Ed laying on the ground.
He got out and stayed with Ed until the police came – almost exactly 36 hours after the time of the accident. Rodriquez made sure that Ed was loaded on the ambulance, and then simply went home.
When Ed got to the hospital and the x-rays and MRI’s confirmed that he had a broken spine between the C-4 and C-5 vertebrae in the neck, Ed was called a miracle just to still be alive after 36 hours. But the prognosis was very pessimistic.
He had this huge sore (like a bed sore) on his hip from the chemicals in the concrete where he laid motionless for so long. The doctors thought that he would probably lose that leg. And of course he was given virtually no chance to walk again. But Ed knew better. He knew that God’s first promise had been fulfilled and that more was yet to come.
In fact when Good Morning America and the Today show called his wife about featuring his story, Ed told her to tell them that he was not interested in being on the show until he could walk on to the set.
Ironically, when that day came, several months and many miracles later, when he took his first hesitant steps, Ed was no longer news worthy. And the shows were not interested.
A year after the accident, Ed was able to return to his old job. He said it was eerie – he went back to the same project, working with the same people on his team. It was like he had never been gone.
Except that now he was different – forever transformed by the many miracles that occurred. Transformed by the unmistakable working of the Holy Spirit in his life.
For one thing, Ed found that being the one that survives is also a burden. Because every time that he hears an ambulance or reads about an auto fatality, he wonders again why he lived. Wonders what it is that God saved him to do?
So he prays a lot – gives thanks for his life and for the support of his family – and for the skill of the doctors. And his miracle has already changed one life. His physical therapist recently began attending seminary – inspired in part I am sure by Ed’s witness.
But Ed continued to wonder about the other two promises in his vision. The second promise of big changes in vocation happened the next Fall, when his wife, Deborah, took a position as a Librarian in a Galveston elementary school.
The third was to tell his story to a priest, but he had no obvious opportunity to do that. Ed was no longer in a Catholic Church because of divorce and re-marriage. Before the wreck, he was attending one of those large non-denominational churches.
So large in fact, that when Deborah phoned to ask for a pastoral visit when Ed was first in Intensive Care, she was told that a member of the staff could only come for one thirty minute visit – did she want them to come to the house or to the hospital?
Needless to say, that was not where Ed now felt called to tell his story.
So part of his daily prayer was to ask God for clarification of how he was to carry out that instruction. And his prayers would often draw him to the story of Jesus healing the leper, and then commanding the man to show himself to a priest - to certify his miracle of healing. So Ed was anxious to do the same thing, but just did not know how to take the first step.
Then about two months ago, Ed’s wife came home and told him that her good friend from her new school was married to a priest, and that I had asked to meet him and to hear his story. Of course at that time I knew nothing of his vision, only a few details of his ordeal – but I knew that I had to hear more.
Ed had a hard time answering his wife’s question that day – because he was literally weeping with joy.
Joy that his experience might somehow touch somebody else’s life in a positive way. Joy that his miracle might bring someone else closer to God. Joy that maybe this might be part of the reason that he was set apart – that he was saved that day. So that we might also believe that as children of God, we will never be alone or unloved. Never orphaned.
I am happy to be the priest to share Ed’s story, and I pray that we will all hold on to those miracles of the Holy Spirit when we are witness to them. Bank them in your internal safe deposit box. So that you can draw them out in the future when your spiritual life becomes lean.
And use them as reminders. Reminders of Christ’s promise that we heard this morning. “I will not leave you orphaned . . . because I live, you also will live.” Amen. Alleluia.