Abbey 2011 Sixth Sunday of Easter A
Acts 8:5–8, 14–17
1 Peter 3:15–18
It is a very precious and sacred moment when a loved one is about to take his/her leave from us and depart to the world beyond death. It is that very scene and experience of the disciples and Jesus that the gospel writer John is capturing for us these Sundays of the resurrection. He presents Jesus as giving his final testament before he dies. He prepares his followers for his imminent departure. But he also tells them what he is leaving with them. It is not only farewell, but a sharing of the inheritance that is his. He reminds them of how they will remain connected with one another and with him.
But the disciples are afraid and saddened. What will they do without Jesus? They have experienced a very close bond with Jesus. There is no doubt they will miss him. And that leaves them with an emptiness, with a hole in their lives–and a big hole in their relationship with him. They will no longer eat with him, talk and share with him, walk the roads with him. They will not see him. Like all of us faced with the absence of one we love, they will miss his physical and bodily presence. Jesus is aware of what they are feeling. They feel like orphans. And it is that feeling of abandonment, of having no nurturer, no life-giver that Jesus is addressing.
As we listen to Jesus talk to his disciples, he makes it very clear, “I am going.” It also becomes clear that he will not be seen. The world especially will not see him simply because it has no relationship with him. Many people will come and go throughout history without seeing Jesus. They simply have no experience of him.
But for the disciples it means they will have to change their mode of “seeing” Jesus. They will need new eyes with which to see the relationship. It is only those who love Jesus that will experience him as alive and still among them. And still giving them life and hope. Clinging to Jesus, especially clinging to his physical, bodily presence, is no sign that we love Jesus. Jesus must go and if we love him, we will let him go. On Easter day Jesus makes that very clear to Mary Magdalene. She loved Jesus and struggled painfully that he was no longer around. We catch her weeping because she could not find his body. When she recognizes him she clings to him and Jesus says, “Let go of me!! I must go to the Father.” Mary Magdalene will need new eyes with which to see Jesus. She has them already, but doesn’t know it yet. For the eyes to see Jesus are called love.
Jesus is the only person that we should love without condition. He is the only person we must love without condition. To love someone with such commitment and fidelity is not to leave them in the past, in a memory that can never move forward. Jesus says gently but repeatedly, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If we have a true love of Jesus, then we will cling not to his body but to his word. That word will give us life and become our way and our truth. If we have the words of Jesus, and we do, and if we activate them, then Jesus remains alive for us and continues to walk with us, to feed us and guide us. Loving Jesus looks like taking his word and making it the word that keeps creating and sustaining us. However we experience Jesus in his absence, it will always be in the shape of love: our loving him and even more so, his continuing to love us.
Jesus tries to name what this on-going love of his will look like. And today he calls it the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. An Advocate, sometimes called a Paraclete, means someone to stand with us when we are challenged, questioned, ignored and misunderstood. He will send us the Spirit of Truth. Truth meaning, the heart of the relationship between Jesus and the Father and the Father and ourselves. It is a spirit of truth because it is at the core of everything. It is what stands when all else falls apart. And the core of authentic life is that Jesus is in the Father and we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us. What Jesus will send us is a new presence found in love that can live in each heart and in the center of the community.
The love that Jesus commands and we experience is not merely a private affair between me and Jesus. But it is a communal love: The love between Jesus and the Father and the Spirit of both; the love Jesus commands the disciples is above all communal; it is found in the communion between disciples; it is found in the works of love. Remember, the model of love that comes before this final farewell of Jesus is that of washing feet, Jesus washing our feet. And the love command is given as, “Wash each other’s feet as I have done to you.” Doing that is the sign that we are loving Jesus. And doing that loving means that Jesus and the Father are in us. That loving, Jesus will go on to say, the world can see. And then the world can be drawn into the circle of the Father’s loving.
This love of Jesus within us is not possessive or controlling or dominating. It is not a power or force that makes one submissive. It is the gift of Spirit and hence of mutuality: of being with and in. This Spirit, says Jesus, will never leave us. This Spirit is what God breathed into us in the beginning; it is what made us alive. It was not any spirit any breath, but his breath and his Spirit. In finishing his work, Jesus must return to the Father and send this Spirit again as at the beginning. This forever Spirit is what enlivens the Church; it that which makes us realize all the implications of our being loved so much that the Father and Son will live within us.
The key to Jesus’ going, his absence, is love. Only when Jesus remains the one loved totally and completely will we not be orphaned, not be alone, not be undefended in the face of injustice. We must not confuse the Spirit of Truth with what is correct or what is written down. The Spirit of Truth is rather what opens our eyes to see that our God is relational. Baptism in water and Spirit is baptism into an on-going affair of love between Father and Son. Jesus came to reveal that love and power and now he is going back into it. But not alone. We too are being drawn slowly, gently and firmly into the heart of that love.
There is no way that we can proclaim the resurrection unless Jesus leaves us and for good. In fact, it is our loving him and keeping his commandments that is in reality a proclamation and witness that he is risen and alive. If we are loving him thus, then the Spirit is working in us, and through us the world, too, is being drawn into that love that makes all things new.