Easter 6, Year A
17 May 2020
Rev Kate McDonald
Acts 17.22-31; Psalm 66.7-18; 1 Peter 3.13-22; John 14.15-21
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m Kate McDonald, Associate Minister of St Andrew’s Jerusalem and Tiberias, and as we journey through this Easter season, I pray you may know God’s compassionate presence and faithful guidance.
Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you riches beyond imagination. Pour into our hearts such love towards you that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In this morning’s gospel from John 14.15-21, we pick up where we left off last week. Jesus is still with his disciples in the upper room the night before he was crucified. The disciples still face an unknown future and they’re still fearful.
And Jesus is still speaking comfort to their hurting, confused, and disoriented hearts, trying to prepare them to continue their relationship with him, even when they are physically separated from him.
Everything will soon be different, he is trying to tell them. There will be no going back to the way things were before.
I wonder if, as he spoke, they could bear to imagine what it would be like. He was still with them after all. They’d just felt his touch as he washed their feet. They’d sat with him and shared food and drink together. They could hear his voice, feel his calming presence.
And I can’t help but wonder, thinking about this scene, if someone had told us three months ago that soon everything would be different, that there would be no going back to the way things were before, could we have fully understood it?
Having just sung together, prayed together, shared the peace together, broken bread and poured wine together, would we have been able to imagine a time when that would not be possible?
We know today the ache of separation. And so we have a sense of how deeply unsettling it must have been for the disciples. Hearing Jesus talk this way, knowing they would no longer be together, would have disrupted their sense of identity, their hopes for the future, their understanding of their relationship with him, and quite possibly their perception of God’s activity in their lives.
But Jesus tells his disciples that they must go on, even after he is no longer physically with them. They are still to bear witness to the love that been in their midst in the time they have known him. They are still to obey the commandments — to love God, love neighbour, love one another. He has shown them how in the way he has loved them: they must serve one another, encourage one another, pray for one another.
He knows this next part of the journey will be daunting for them, so assures them they will not be alone. He will ask the Father to send them another — another Paraclete, is the word John uses. This is translated in many different ways — as companion, advocate, counsellor, helper, intercessor, friend. It is impossible to capture in a single word the breadth and depth of the role and gift of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.
But the heart of what Jesus is saying is that the Father will send another to come alongside them, as he has done, to give them strength and courage, to be the source of what they need as his disciples to carry his ministry to a hurting world.
He promises that the Spirit will unite, connect, and comfort them.
We are hearing this promise today in a season of separation. So I pray that Jesus’ assurance may bring peace to troubled hearts.
If we know anything from reading our scriptures, we know this: people of faith throughout the centuries have had to adapt to change and challenge. Wherever we find ourselves, our ancestors have been here before — through flood and famine and plague and exile and persecution, they have had to learn anew what it means to be the people of God in a world that had suddenly changed.
For those who have gone before, we have the benefit of hindsight. We can see in their stories the way that God was always faithful, always present. So perhaps before now, we had not fully appreciated how deeply emotional and complex it is to be in the place of unknowing, how much grief and letting go is involved.
But we are also hearing this promise in the season of Easter. We are hearing this text with eyes attuned to the mystery and miracle of the resurrection. And what we know, what the disciples did not yet grasp as Jesus was speaking to them, was that death would not be the end. God was about to do a new thing, and Jesus was preparing for them to be a part of it.
So I wonder, for us in these days, how can we see with resurrection eyes? Where might we see God doing a new thing, and calling us to be a part of it? Where can we see the Spirit at work uniting, connecting, and comforting?
As we try to work out what it means to be a people of faith in this context, Jesus’ words in this gospel passage are not only comforting, they are wise. They remind us that, even and especially in times of loss and separation, we are to focus on the basics. To obey the commandments. To love God, love neighbour, love one another. To serve one another, encourage one another, and pray for one another.
We are having to find different ways of doing this now, but alongside us we have the Spirit of Truth, companion, advocate, counsellor, helper, intercessor, friend, and source of all we need as disciples of Christ called to carry his ministry to a hurting world.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you sent your Spirit of Truth to be our advocate and guide. Open our ears to hear your word spoken to us.
Open our eyes to see your work in the world around us.
Open our hearts to seek your will for the lives you have given us.
Grant us strength and courage to walk in your way of compassion and peace, loving you and serving your people in the week to come.
In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
May the God of peace give you peace in all times and in all ways. And the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.