A reading from the Book of Revelation 21:10-14,22-23
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 14:23-29
Sometimes, in the night, when I am anxious, I wonder if I believe. I toss and turn and feel emotion churning in the pit of my stomach. In those times I wonder why nothing seems to be working out for someone who tries to walk the Way of Faith. When someone I love dies, I grieve and wonder if I will ever know consolation. I have stared at the yawning grave as the casket is lowered, my vision blurred by tears.
Should someone I love betray me, my grief is the same as at a time of death. How could friend do such a thing to a friend? Shouldn’t friendship be forever, rooted in Christ as it is?
If my health should fail, what would I do then, since I have known only good health? I’ve tended friends in their illness and kept vigil with the dying and their families. But how do I deal with these realities in my own life? Do I believe? Then, why am I anxious?
There cannot have been a more angst-ridden atmosphere than that in the Upper Room on that night before the Passion. That is where we are again on this Sixth Sunday of Easter. Jesus is the teacher to the end. The students struggle to take in the message. Jesus is the potter. Can they allow themselves to be the clay? Jesus molds them, preparing them for a reality that they cannot imagine – life without his visible presence. Knowing them as he does, even as he speaks, he knows that the lesson is beyond them. It will take the Advocate, the Spirit, to empower them, to enable them to hear and believe.
If we pay attention, we might recognize that Jesus tried to teach us these lessons in the early days of our faith. I remember how I longed for Baptism, that wonderful moment that would transform reality even as I would be transformed, called by name, and identified with Christ. As I came out of the Waters, I wanted what St. Paul said to be true for me – to life is Christ. I don’t think I thought about dying being gain. After all, I was young then and naïve. I couldn’t imagine sickness or suffering. How could there be betrayal. Life in Christ would shield me from such dire realities that others experience. That is what I thought then. Walking with Christ in the brightness of the wonder that Christ is would banish the shadows where terror lurked. Walking with Christ in the new life of Baptism would be like living in the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Now!
Christ is the gentle teacher. I know that as a youngster I loved him. As does any lover, I saw our relationship being my life and my support, lived in an Eden of bliss and forever young. Jesus did say it was about love and that the Father would love me because I loved Christ and wanted to live in union with him. I would be drawn into the community of live that is God, having the likeness in which I was created perfected. Christ would hold me out of harm’s way.
That was then. So long ago. Untested. Untried. Now there are sleepless nights. Now there is tossing and restless turning. I have wept in the night and wondered, forgetting that Christ was betrayed with a kiss. Jesus wept at a friend’s death. And he cried out in terror as the darkness enveloped him. He felt abandoned by the One who had sent him. So many signs. So much I missed.
A man chided me once. Or was it pity I heard in his voice. He laughed at my faith even as he said it would be nice to believe in Christ. But for him, that was out of he question. Why? Because, he said, the Messiah should bring about the Messianic Kingdom of peace and justice and light. If that had followed from Christ, he said he would be a believer. But look at the world. Look at the suffering. Look at every age after Christ and we wee as much famine, war, disease, and death as before Christ.
Didn’t the kingdom begin in the Resurrection? Look at all those who have come to faith in Christ form community that is the Church. Isn’t that the Messianic Kingdom? When the community assembles around the Table and renews Christ’s dying and rising in the action of Eucharist, when the Bread is broken and the Cup shared, isn’t that the Messianic Kingdom realized? The action doesn’t end there – ever. There is always a sending to be what the Eucharist empowers – Christ’s presence to a wounded world.
In my sleepless nights, what am I forgetting? As I toss and turn and want to cry out, I wonder if I will survive. And should I survive, what then? Do these signs of failure, betrayal, and death forebode a void that will envelop me in final defeat?
I hear Christ speak now with firm gentleness. Peace. I give you peace! Do not let your heart be troubled. Believing isn’t easy and has little to do with feeling. If I believe I must trust Christ and his word. This peace has little to do with the absence of war and hostility. Certainly that absence will one day be part of abiding peace. This peace ought not be destroyed by betrayal. Certainly reconciliation will be part of the peace Christ gives.
May I again remember the peace Christ gives in a way the world does not give, and remember what that peace is. I need to be reminded that Christ assured me and all who accept his peace, that nothing will separate us from the love of God that comes to us through Christ Jesus. That doesn’t mean we won’t know suffering. That doesn’t mean we won’t encounter death. That doesn’t mean we will not know betrayal. But we will, in the end, when all else fails, know the love of God forever.
Jesus said all this before he died to bolster the courage of his disciples as they watched him die. Christ says this now to the newly baptized so that they will not be discouraged should they experience trial as they begin to journey with Christ on the way. Christ says it to me and others like me who are seasoned travelers who may know success, but may taste failure as well. Even in the darkest night, God is there and we are loved with the same love God has for Christ.
That is the truth taught. That is what Christ wants us to remember and believe.
Come, Advocate. Come, Holy Spirit and help our unbelief.
are have been in Easter almost as long as we were in Lent. What is supposed to be happening in the Community of Believers, the Body of Christ? Is this a time during which we are supposed to be getting used to the idea that Christ is risen? I wonder about that. There is a temptation to see Easter as a conclusion. Lent is over. The Passion and Death narrative has been proclaimed. One can think of that as the story that spells out defeat so perfectly. The world looked on and saw Jesus broken. The disciples went away sad, caught up in the defeat of the one they had thought would set Israel free.
We live in an age that is easily caught up in defeatism. Signs are all around us. Think about it. Christianity is losing ground, caught in the backwash resulting from sins of previous generations, alliances between the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. People suffered at the hands of those who abused power, those who should have been servants of the poor and the vulnerable, and they rise up and say, enough! No more! Never again! Faith in Christ has been tested and found wanting because those who witnessed to it professionally were themselves found seriously wanting. There are scars, physical and emotional, that attest to the tyranny.
Churches around the world filled to overflowing for Easter Sunday services. What does that mean? Is it a testimony to the fact that somehow faith survives? Is it people gathering, hoping against hope? Are they disciples, seasoned, gasping as they arrive because they are not as agile as they used to be when their faith was young? Do they peer in to soak up the signs again with the hope their faith will be reignited?
Do they ask themselves how the Easter Mystery is compatible with the holy war that goes on and on in the Middle East and the slaughter of so many innocents there? Are they struggling to reconcile the church bells and the alleluias with the AIDS epidemic in Africa and sleeping sickness ravaging so many. Where is the evidence for the triumph being celebrated when those gathered realize that often it is profit that gets in the way of making medications accessible that could alleviate and even eradicate those plagues?
The world continues to be shocked by the acts of terrorism that speak to the human capacity for inhumanity. The bombings in Brussels and Paris attest to that, forcing many parents to cry out in anguish as their innocents are killed, along with their relatives and friends. Will it ever end? No wonder the faith of many is challenged.
During a recent prayer period there was an awakening. You might ask what took me so long to hear this. How many years have I pondered the story only to hear it for the first time today? It shouldn’t have taken me so long to notice that in these final weeks of Easter, in the Liturgy of the Word, John’s Gospel takes us back to the upper room on the night before the Passion. Betrayal, that most bitter blow in Jesus’ sufferings, is at hand as we hear that Judas has left the upper room. In this moment of tension Jesus speaks of being glorified with the glory he shares with God, the glory that is his own. Now. How? How are we supposed to recognize Jesus’ glory in what is about to transpire? Are we to hear the passion story again in light of the triumph? The Resurrection is part of the whole. All these actions mingle and comingle and emerge as the source of a new creation in which we all are called to participate.
That was the story the Paul and Barnabas told as they traveled among the Gentiles, announcing the Good News. Everywhere they went new believers were joined to the infant church. The Gospel is for all people. Every time they witnessed the response, Paul and Barnabas were amazed by the power of the Spirit transforming others as they had been transformed.
The challenge is for us to see glory in defeat. If we follow Christ in Resurrection, suffering should not surprise us. That well could be the mistake I made in Easters past. I thought the darkness was over when the Candle entered the church. Christ our light! Thanks be to God! The strife is over. The battle done. Now is the Victor’s triumph won. It is finished, isn’t it? If that was my expectation, no wonder I left myself open to disappointment when I am confronted by signs that the Victory is still a work in progress.
Think of those people that entered the Font during the Easter Vigil. They inhabit the same world we do. Yet they emerged, gleaming with oil and dressed in white, signs that they are identified with Christ and share in his life. There sins are washed away. Christ’s risen life is theirs. Now is the Victor’s triumph won! What happens when they recognize the vestiges of sin remaining in their lives and they realize that the struggle must still go on? Like Paul and Barnabas they must press on for their participation in the Victory that lies before them.
If we recognize Christ in his rising, we must let Christ help us see all reality in a new light. Sometimes what seems like victory will be a defeat. What seems like triumph will be a failure. We must struggle continually to say no to sin, to the temptations subtle and otherwise to lord it over others, to see ourselves as superior to others, to see ourselves in any other role than that of servants to the rest.
Hear the words. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. It is all about Love. But that is not a love that takes anything to self. It is a love that empowers us to empty ourselves of self, to pour ourselves out in service. It is in service that the Sprit enables us to recognize that all people are God’s beloved and share in God’s communal life of love.
In the midst of all that seems to spell the defeat of Christianity, those who have peered into the empty tomb and seen the garments of death and the cloth that covered Jesus’ face lying apart by itself, those who have seen the signs must dare to enter and seeing, believe.
We are called to walk with Christ on the Way and let our hearts burn as Christ challenges us to live the new creation we are through Baptism. This is the emerging new heaven and new earth replacing the former heaven and the former earth that have passed away.
In Christ we must dare to be signs of contradiction. The triumph is in the cross. The victory is in the dying. The glory is now.
See them, clad in white like those standing near the throne of the Lamb. Revelation’s throngs, armed with palm branches, are those who have fought the good fight and persevered, faithful to the end. They share in Christ’s glory. Now, see those that emerged from the waters during the Vigil of Easter. In the font they had died to all that was not of God. The vestiges of the past were piled n the side where they had entered. On the other, they stood in their white garments, the sign that they now are clothed in Christ. Their first journey will be to the Table where they will be welcomed to the Table and for the first time be invited to share the One Bread and the One Cup. The Chrism Oil gleamed on their foreheads as they experienced the unity that is theirs with those who gather for the Eucharistic meal.
Revelation’s white-robed throng looked on these Neophytes and rejoiced in the hope for the next generation of believers embodied in them. Those in heaven became a cheering section in the midst of the Easter event and urged the newly baptized on to victory, to share in their victory in Christ.
The Assembly applauded their entry and prayed for their strength to witness to Christ’s love and the power of Christ’s dying and rising as they, for the first time, will be sent to be bread broken and cup poured out for those starving to know Christ and the love that comes from God through Christ.
Radiant smiles wreathed the faces of the newly baptized. They exuded confidence as the Easter sun rose. They exited to imitate Christ in their pouring out of self in service of Christ’s little ones.
That was then. Now we have been celebrating Easter to this Fourth Sunday. The flowers that adorned the worship space begin to look tired. The fresh candles are shorter than they were that night. Their wax is being consumed in the sacrifice of self necessary to give light. Tradition has the white robes returned on the Second Sunday of Easter, but the faces of the Neophytes still emit the joyous glow seen Holy Saturday Night. But look closely. You might see signs of the realization that it is easy to begin this journey, but the successful completion of it cannot be done alone. They are learning that they need the strength and support of the Body of Christ that is the Church as they live the Priesthood of the Baptized. They know they need the strength and support that is Christ’s life within them.
By now they know Easter is bittersweet. There was not a way to warn them that some who had been their friends would choose not to talk with them any more because of the change perceived in them. They couldn’t be prepared for the experience of discomfort in once familiar places that now seem inimical because of the stark contrast caused by Christ’s presence in their lives. The glitter and glitz, the glamour and gold all scream of a materialism and egocentricity that they rejected in the Bath. Pope Francis’s words echo with a new clarity as they hear him call for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor. He challenges the shepherds to shepherd among the sheep and not over them. The Church is to witness in stark contrast to the values espoused and sought after by so many of the powerful in contemporary society.
Like toddlers taking first steps, the Neophytes may fear slippery slopes and steep inclines unless they have a hand to hold for security’s sake. They strain to hear Christ’s voice in the Word broken and to remember it.
The journey of faith begun is about attaining familiarity with Christ and Christ’s ways. The implications can be shocking. It is about love. By now, four weeks into the journey, the Neophytes experience the demands of love Christ expects to be lived by those who follow him, the weight of the cross Christ demands should be taken up every day as they walk in Christ’s footsteps.
Some may begin to understand that the cross is to forgive and to love in spite of betrayal. The cross is the vulnerability that comes with the unconditional love that is the pouring out of self in service. Should the newly baptized be told that this was Christ’s experience in his ministry? If they minister in imitation of Christ they will experience the emptiness, too. The ultimate cross is the kiss of the friend who betrays.
It may well be that one has to experience emptiness, to taste the bitter wine of betrayal, to enter into desolation and even face persecution in order to know the all consuming love of God that comes to those who walk in union with Christ and persevere in, with, and through Christ. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. May the Spirit, poured out on them, help them, help us to experience silence and not be afraid; to experience rejection and not be afraid; to listen in the emptiness and recognize Christ’s voice reminding all of us caught up in the unity that is Christ’s with the father and the Spirit: No one can take them out of my hand. My Father has given them to me.
If we listen, if we trust, then one day the Neophytes and we who have been on the Way years longer, will stand in the company of those around Christ’s heavenly throne and with them sing, Alleluia. Amen. Amen.