Sunday, 27 April 2008

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A, Shaftesbury

Jn 14:15-21
We heard Jesus’s goodbye words, and as I’ve said before, when we say goodbye to someone, especially if we're not going to see them for a while, people often try and say something important, something that they want the other person to remember while they are separated. Such words can be particularly important when someone is dying.
The words in today's Gospel are such farewell words. Jesus knew that he was going to die on the Cross, that he would be rising and ascending to heaven, leaving his disciples. And at the Last Supper he gave them his farewell discourse.

Part of what he said was a simple, but final, request, and Jesus emphasised it by saying, "IF you love me...". His love for us requires a response from us. And what he asks of us is total, "If you love me, keep my commandments". And he had earlier summed up his commandments saying, "I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you"(Jn 13:34).

What’s different about the part of the text read this year is: His final wish that we keep his commandments is linked with the two things that we heard him announce. He said that he would send his Holy Spirit, and that he would come again.

Part of the reason why we want to keep Christ's commandments is that we hope to see him again. If you never expect to meet someone ever again, then you are naturally going to be less concerned about what they wanted, because they'd never know whether or not you'd done what they asked. But with Christ we believe he will come again, because he has told us so, and if he will come again then it does matter that we do what he asked of us. We hope to continue and perfect that relationship which the apostles enjoyed while he was on earth, but the promise of eternal life with him only holds if we keep to the commandments he gave us.

The Spirit is given to us to enable us to keep his commandments. Alone, by ourselves, we are weak and we sin -we break his commands, we fail to love. We can be selfish and petty, impatient and irritable, careless and thoughtless of the needs of others. It’s only with the strength of the gift Christ promised us, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we can hope to keep his commands. That's why one of the titles given to the Spirit is "another helper", the Advocate who remains at our side. The apostles had Jesus physically with them to encourage them, teach them, and correct them. We do not, but as Christ said, "I will not leave you orphans". This is true not only because he will come again, but because while he is gone his Holy Spirit is here with us.

That passage spoke of the Trinity, of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are a communion of mutual love. The action of the Spirit in us forms us into the likeness of Christ, drawing us into the life and love of the Trinity. If we’re faithful then Jesus's words will be true of us at the end of time when he comes again, "On that day, you will understand that I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you". But this can only be true if we have kept his commands, if we have responded to his farewell request, if we have shown that we love him.

Christ's farewell request could hardly have been simpler: to love. But the motive calling for us to follow it is demanding and uncompromising. He says, IF you love me, and he said that on the night he was preparing to die for love of us, to show us what true love really means. When we look at Christ on the Cross, as we see him on every Crucifix in every Catholic Church, we see his love for us, and surely this must awaken a response in us, a response that seeks to return love for love. And the response he asks is clear enough: keep my commandments.

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