A few years ago I drove with one of my colleagues and a student
from Ephesus to Miletus. This was but one day in a four week trip to
Asia Minor where we had gone to photograph ancient archeological sites for
an internet project called The Virtual World (if you want to see it, visit
http://moses.creighton.edu/vr). Our day at Miletus was oppressively
hot, and Miletus itself is a dismal ruin. The water table has shifted since
Paul’s day, and the ruins are swampy and dank. Many are covered
with calcified deposits from centuries of flooding. Little of the ancient
glories of that city remain. To me, Miletus seemed inhabited by ghosts,
and I was glad to return to our lovely hotel near Ephesus with expansive
views of Mediterranean.
The memory of Miletus undoubtedly has influenced my interpretation of today’s
readings, but my over all impression is that Paul is quite sad and tired.
Indeed, there is a kind of melancholy that permeates the passage from Acts.
How odd for an Easter reading. But the theme is definitely there. Paul
expects never to see again many of the people he loves, he predicts his own
imprisonment and future suffering, and he expresses his longing to finish
the course. It seems to me that for Paul on this particular day the
course seemed very long indeed.
At the hospital where I distribute communion I see the face of Paul in the
longing of the sick. As they gaze at the host and I say “the
body of Christ,” I see the long course they have run and how they long to
complete it, yet perhaps not today. The longing is mixed with hope
for another tomorrow, for a return to health and for the gift of running
a bit longer. For many health will return, but in my Miletus-inspired
pensiveness I think the return is but a delay, and one day the course will
be complete. I am profoundly aware of my own frailty.
Even Jesus had to return to the Father, I remind myself. Easter does
not mean the evasion of suffering or an escape from the travail of transition
to a new form of life. There is a kind of sadness in Jesus departure
from the world as he ascends (in a few days) to glory. We should not
forget that the prayer of Jesus that we read today was uttered before his
passion, in the hope of transformation. May it be a consolation to
all who suffer in the season of Easter.
“Blessed day by day be the Lord, who bears
our burdens: God who is our salvation. God is a saving God for us; the Lord,
my Lord, controls the passageways of death.”