The Sixth Sunday of Easter
29 May 2011
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee in all things and above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 3:13-22
This week and last, our Eastertide readings from the Gospel of John have placed us within the world of the Last Supper. After Jesus washed his disciples' feet and talked about his impending betrayal and arrest, he launched into a speech that scholars have variously dubbed the Farewell, or Last Discourse. One of the great purposes of these words is to assure his disciples that even though he will face these terrible things and eventually depart from them, he will never truly leave them. He wishes to convey to his friends that he and they are deeply interconnected by a bond that can not be broken. This bond is a chain of relationship so strong that none of the powers of the world will be able to sever it and that with this bond comes certain responsibilities.
Last week we learnt that the only thing that can keep the disciples from recognising this connexion is their own ignorance. Jesus told them that he was the "way, the truth, and the life," and that they already know this for they have seen him at work in the world, and having seen him they have also seen the Father. They know God because they know Jesus. While the disciples think there must be more to it than this, Jesus reminds them that it is just that simple.
This week we learn more about that relationship and how Jesus will always stay connected to them and, by extension, to us. Jesus tell his friends that they must love him and keep his commandments, which in the context of this last discourse are wrapped up into one in the “new” commandment he has just given them that they are to love one another as he has loved them (13:34). If the disciples can carry out this task, this work of love, then he will ask his Father to “give you another Counsellor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth.” He goes on to make it clear that the disciples already know this Spirit, for "he [already] dwells with you."
I am particularly struck here as I see that the “if” of Jesus’ initial statement is not as conditional as it first may have seemed. Jesus recognises that his disciples love him and love each other. This has been their work together and Jesus will be encouraging this work even from the Cross when he asks the beloved disciple and Mary to care for each other when he is gone. Jesus has been asking them to love him and love each other from the beginning, they have begun this work, and already know the power of the Spirit. They will continue this work after he leaves them and will experience his continued presence through the Spirit.
Indeed, for John one of the great roles of the Sprit is the continued presence of God—Emmanuel—in the absence of the person of Jesus. The great Johannine scholar Raymond Brown put it this way, saying that “John presents the Paraclete ... as the personal presence of Jesus in the Christian while Jesus is with the Father” (1). This both actualised and promised indwelling is an intimate connexion that we can not escape. Jesus promises that we will come to know that “I am in the Father and you in me, and I in you.” He draws out this chain of connexion even further when he goes on to say that “he who has my commandments and keeps them”—that is to say those who are engaged in the work of love—“he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my father, and will love him and manifest myself to him.” Indeed, as we remain constant in the work of love, we remain in relationship with Jesus who connects us to the Father, and who ensures that we are filled by the Spirit, which is the force that fills us with life.
Today, as we mark after Mass the start of Rogtiontide, it is particularly important to recognise our intimate, vital, and dynamic connection with the Godhead. The Rogation days are a time of reflection, prayer, penitence, and fasting when we particularly recognise our own relationship with creation and the Creator. In the lesson we read from the Acts of the Apostle, we hear of Saint Paul reminding the people of Athens that the God of Israel, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is “the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, ... he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.” As we are commanded by Jesus to love each other, putting us into right relationship with him and with the Father, we are placing ourselves in relationship with the source of all that is, the fount of the Cosmos. As such, our worries about whether environmentalism is a liberal or conservative issue, a politically correct fad, or something we must enforce upon others all melt away. If we are in a relationship with the deepest source of all that is, a relationship based upon love, the genuine caring for the other for the other's sake, then caring for creation, caring about how we use the earth, how we steward the earth must become a part of our spiritual practice. We must care about creation because not only are we a part of that creation, but we have a real, active relationship with the creator.
Paul tells the Athenians that God “made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him” We are all one people, given the earth to look after with the purpose that we might love each other and seek after the knowledge and love of God. It is in today's passage from the Gospel, therefore, that we have the assurance that Jesus believes us to be on the right path. We have from Jesus the knowledge that we are never separated from him as we experience his abiding presence through the Holy Spirit. We have, therefore, the strength and guidance we need to care for God's creation and while we can argue about the details of how this is best accomplished, we should never forget that the project is one that is at the heart of our very being, the heart of our abiding relationship with God in Christ.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
28 May 2011
(1) Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, the Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 2, 1139.
© 2011 Andrew Charles Blume