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By Rev. Joan Kessler

Isaiah 40:25, 28-31 Psalm 91

Today we hear some very pastoral words. Words of comfort and consolation were delivered to a community experiencing much suffering and hardship. The Israelites had been plundered by foreign adversaries and taken into exile, away from their home, their beloved Temple, everything that gave them identity and purpose. And they wondered if God had abandoned them, forgotten about them. Given the circumstances, they had every reason to be concerned and to raise doubts. But Isaiah brought them a message of hope and perseverance. He proclaimed the greatness of the Divine Presence – a greatness that outnumbers the stars in the sky, is flung beyond the cosmos, yet is so very present and grounded in the majesty of an Eagle. His words present new ideas and imagery for the Divine, to remind them of their relationship to one another, and to the source of their beings.

Eagles are majestic creatures. They can fly higher than any other bird. Their vision is up to eight times sharper than that of a human. Their massive wingspan enables them to soar and hunt vast areas with minimum effort. From a spiritual perspective, an eagle is a symbol of freedom. It brings messages of renewed life because it is associated with the east winds – the direction of spring, the rising sun, and rebirth. An eagle symbolizes not only a new beginning but also serves as a reminder of the importance of resilience and perseverance amid difficulty. If any image would have resonated with the Israelites at this time in their history, it would have been the eagle as a bringer of hope, to keep going and to persevere these current hardships. Because the day will come when this time will be past, and they will return to Judah to begin the daunting task of restoration and rebuilding. The memories held of their past would be largely forgotten with elders having passed on over the several decades they spent in captivity. How do they hope for something they have never known? Returning will present its challenges, not unlike living in exile. Isaiah’s message is intended to lift them up and give them encouragement while waiting for this time to pass.

To whom can we compare God, is the question Isaiah asks. The Nature of God is no longer a once and for all understanding. In my time with you, I have experienced a very expansive understanding of what is meant by Divine Presence. God is not far away, God is not an old white man in the sky with a staff in his hand. No, God is what we imagine God to be; as a clear night sky with billions of stars overhead; a table laden with good things to eat and people we care about gathered around. God is the hospital visit showing care and concern, the telephone call, the gift received. In our time together we have talked about God in different ways, always respecting one another’s understanding and experience. We celebrate the diversity of every person who walks through the doors.

Psalm 91 is a reading I hope provides a bit of a balm for our hurting today. It’s all about addressing our fears and claiming our hope. The Psalter speaks words of imminent protection from specific fears and those that remain concealed in the shadows, like the monster under the bed. They can be difficult to process and articulate and yet this Psalm seems to call them into the light, and by doing so, diminishes their power to destroy and to immobilize.

This Sunday is a difficult one and these words may be washing right over you. In the time we have left, I want you all to know that my door is open if you would like to come and talk with me about how you are feeling. I know this news comes as a shock and a disappointment. I know it has left you feeling like “what now?” and maybe deflated and tired already with the reality of the work that will be undertaken to find your next minister. And this Sunday, we don’t gloss over these feelings, we let them be. We will lean into trust these coming days and weeks and claim what we hope for. We will be a space where our community can come together and support one another and give voice to our fears for a time and then move into sharing our hopes for the future. We have done tremendous work together around healing and becoming a more cohesive group and addressing our differences from the standpoint that it is okay to disagree. This is who we are. And yet, our future ministry is beckoning us forward, yours and mine. And there will be help when we are tired and weary, we will not be on our own. But today, let’s just be with one another, supporting one another, and not worry about what tomorrow will bring. We can do this.

An eagle is a sacred creature because it is believed to fly closest to the Creator. It represents the virtues of courage and strength, honour, and perseverance. I discovered this week that there is no way to explain how the flight of a bird or an airplane happens. It is all about lift and aerodynamics – it is a mystery. We wonder about the future this morning. And we think of eagles that seem to have it so easily figured out. They just soar on the breeze without a care in the world. This week the church commemorates Jesus’ ascension to the great beyond, to heaven, to the eternal love that is promised to us all.

This season of Easter that we conclude this morning has been all about hearing stories of assurance that Spirit’s presence is nowhere we are not. The Way of Jesus is one of care and compassion for one another…. To be vulnerable and open to those things we worry about, our insecurities. I will raise you up on Eagle’s wings…bear you on the breath of dawn… make you shine like the sun…and hold you in the palm of my hand… Together, we will not grow weary nor weak, and we will lift up these years together and the things we have accomplished, the new ideas that have come to fruition and the plans still in process. Because ministry is never finished. May peace and solace find us this day and Amen.

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