Sixth Sunday in Easter Time
Scripture Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21
On the Feast of Saint Matthias last week we saw that we are doing the same thing that Matthias did: accompaning Jesus from his Baptism by John to his Ascension. That is the sacramental reality of the liturgical season. We are now at the end of the journey; the Ascension of the Lord is this week. Then comes Pentecost. In today’s Gospel Jesus adumbrates these events: “I will not leave you orphans,” alludes to his Ascension, and “the Spirit of the truth that the Father will give” alludes to Pentecost two weeks from today. With these two events, Ascension and Pentecost, God’s economy pays out in full. The Trinitarian nature of God is manifested, which Trinitarian nature includes us in its embrace: “I in my Father and you in me and I in you,” in the Holy Spirit who is with you forever. “In consequence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit . . . we . . . have as present as possible not only [with us] but even within [us] the God who is [our] beloved” (Stump, Atonement). As our readings make clear, this grace of indwelling comes to us through our faith and mediated by the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. . .
. . . and the third sacrament of initiation, Holy Communion, which brings us to a union with Christ that is “radical in its energy and intensity” (Stump). Not only, but our union with Christ in the Eucharist is a union precisely with Christ’s suffering and death as the scripture and the liturgy make clear; and that makes sense, because it is in his passion and death that is the love greater than which no one has, that one lay down one’s life for his friends; and this love, in this cruciform way, is the Trinitarian love always present to God and to us when we receive the Eucharist. “Christ suffered for sins once to lead us to God,” writes Saint Peter in our first reading. Christ suffered to take away sin as if to take away a road block or to knock down by simply passing right through the doors of fear that close us in. The goal was to lead us to God; but before that destination could be reached the obstacles had to be removed. The obstacles, the roadblock, the closed door, was sin. Sin is our determined resistance to the destination of Trinitarian embrace. Sin is then a truncated and ersatz version of beatitude that we create for ourselves. Remember the man at the pool of Bethsaida. He was there for 38 years, more than half a lifetime for some of us. Jesus asked a really straightforward question capable of revealing the man’s truth: “Do you want to become well?” Do you want the sins removed? Do you want real beatitude which is your union in cruciform love with Another whose love will annihilate your ego and lead you to God?
Through the sacraments the Holy Spirit of the Risen Lord is within us. What is within Christ is within us; and what is within Christ is his suffering and death for our sakes, eternally, leading us to God; and our suffering is united to his. The sufferings of Christ abound in us; we make up in our bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. But we are also within Christ whose Body and Blood, more real than our own, assimilate us to himself. In Christ, who bears the sufferings of all, always, we are united in solidarity to all the righteous in their sufferings and to all sinners for whose sake Christ suffered and died. It would be enough to overwhelm and drown us except that Jesus in his Trinitarian love has already, once and for all, drowned and reemerged. The Trinitarian love is the rain, the flood, and the wind that assail our fragile house that would fall except it is founded on the Rock of his Word.
Sixth Sunday in Easter Time
Scripture Readings: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23; Jn. 14:23-29
Sometimes we have to lose something before we really appreciate what we had. Sadly, it is after someone dies that their real and deeper qualities become more apparent. We are no longer distracted by superficial annoyances or idiosyncrasies. The veil of the habitual is removed and we realize what had been hidden before our eyes. Parents may long for the day when their children move out on their own, but that day creates a different emptiness in their lives. Toting around an increasingly infirm body makes us realize how liberating good health once was. Life is full of these separations and leave-takings. The pain of loss reveals how meaningful, precious and sustaining these relations have been. They have left enduring traces in our hearts and have contributed to making us who we are. Detachment and separation are good teachers of what is important to our hearts. Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say good night till it be morrow. (Prizes to all those who recognize that line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette.) We are left with a new knowledge that is itself a bequest.
Lives well lived leave a bequest, an access to a world sustained by love and freedom. Primo Levi wrote of a man in his concentration camp during World War II who “reminded others of what it was to be human.” He was able to live with dignity and integrity in an environment constructed to dehumanize and degrade. We have known people who lived from honesty rather than pretense or deceit. Who lived from generosity rather than greed or possessiveness. Who lived from responsibility rather than coercion or exploitation. They have left a bequest, a footprint on the sands of time. Rather than leaving a polluting carbon footprint, they left a charism footprint — the trace of someone who cultivated that gift and grace of their unique vocation in the world. What kind of a bequest are we leaving? Closets crammed with junk? A few more tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere? A hole in the hearts of those who find joy in remembering us?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in the act of reading his last will and testament. This is what he is bequeathing to his Church, to his community of disciples. He is not leaving superiority, prosperity, the structure of an infallibly effective church order. His bequest is peace. Peace I leave with you. His leaving uncovers the interior union with God that is now ours. His peace is his unwavering union with the presence and will of his Father. This is his gift, his bequest. His peace is Himself. The gift and the giver are one. Christ is Himself our peace. His separation takes the form of his passion and death and his mysterious absence in the resurrection and ascension. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. From the gift of this reconciliation with God, we share in that spirit who works to realize this peace in ourselves and with our community and world. The work of peace is being taught by the Spirit whom the Father sends in my name.
This is not the peace which the world gives or knows. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. The giver is present in the gift and it is a gift which only becomes real in being given again and again. The world thinks of peace as a possession. At best, it is the absence of conflict and communication. It is assured by superiority, mutual deterrence, coercion, retaliation, polarization, demonizing the enemy, and degrading the opponent. The world’s way to peace is the exact opposite of the qualities of love Paul listed in I Corinthians: it rejoices in evil, envies, is rude and self-seeking, keeps record of wrongs.
Christ’s bequest to us teaches us to live as he lived. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. His actions, his service, his humility, his obedience are there for us to see and imitate. He is our peace. He is the gift uniting our hearts with his and the will of the Father. The Spirit teaches us and reminds us of all that he told us and did in our midst, of all that now lies within our capacity to understand and to do. St. Francis clearly grasped the Christian response to the peace which is Christ in his prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
For it is giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.