Lectionary blog for May 21
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20;
1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
I grew up on a farm, but I was never really suited to the life. From an early age, nothing about farm work appealed to me. Ours was a small, family farm and children were expected to work alongside their parents. I was harvesting tobacco and milking cows and hoeing corn by the time I was 7 or 8 years old. And I hated every minute of it. My mother said that it usually took about an hour in the field before I was tugging at her and whining, “Are we done?”
This “Are we done?” question was on the minds of Jesus’ disciples in our Gospel lesson. This is a part of Jesus’ long conversation with them at Passover, after he has washed their feet, commanded them to love one another, and declared that they know the way he is going, etc. And they look at each other and think—“Are we done?” “Is it all over?” “What happens next?” “What about us?”
And Jesus is trying to give them a truthful answer, a “yes but also no” answer, which they really don’t understand. The “yes” part of the answer is that he is indeed leaving; it is indeed over. Jesus tries to get them to understand what the future holds, for him and for them: death, resurrection, appearances of the Risen Christ, ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Frankly, it’s all just too weird, confusing and frightening, and they don’t really get it.
“Where are you going?” “No, we can’t come if we don’t know the way.” “Why don’t you speak plainly?” they ask him. “What does he mean by that?” they ask each other. No, they really don’t get it. Why is he leaving, now, so soon? Is it really over?
And Jesus’ answer is “Yes … and no.” He says, yes, in that the way it’s been for the last few years is over. This close, intimate, personal relationship between me and all of you is over and it can never be repeated. My time on earth is done. But, no, in that the community of love we started together is not over. And will never be over. It has begun in us and will continue forever. When I leave, I will send into your midst the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to hold you together and to lead you forward. So, no, it isn’t over. We are not done. We are an ongoing, continuing, expanding, spiritual community marked by love.
Love one another
The text says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And what are Jesus’ commandments? Well, didn’t he say they were all about loving God and each other? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind; and the second is like unto it—you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In another place, he says: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And in the 21st chapter of John, after his death and resurrection, Jesus has a dialog with Peter on the beach: “Peter, do you love me? Feed my lambs. Peter, do you love me? Tend my sheep. Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”
So, it is very clear that Jesus wants us to love one another. The problem is, loving one another is a very difficult business. Loving people you like is hard enough; how can Jesus order us, command us to love even those we don’t like? What are we to do? How do we begin to love others in the way our lord loves us?
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It is a part of our basic human nature that we hear these words as law, as a rule, as a command to be obeyed, as a work to be achieved. Our ears hear Jesus saying something he didn’t say. We hear: “If you want to prove to the world and to God that you love me, then you will have to show it by loving one another.” That’s what we hear, but that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus gave us a word of gospel, not law. A word of promise, not judgment. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. If you are a child of God, you will act like one. If you are connected to the Christ, you will bear the Christian fruit of love.
Jesus’ point is that the capacity to love people is not something we develop or achieve; it is rather the gift of God received in our relationship of love with the Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” is a gospel promise that being in relationship with the Living Lord is a life-changing, transforming experience. As Christ begins to live more and more within us, as we open our lives more and more to Christ’s leading, we find ourselves more and more able to treat others in a loving and respectful manner. The loving relationship we have with Christ begins to spill over into loving relationships with those around us. And Jesus implies, though I am leaving, the love community we have created will continue to live and grow into the future.
And it will be nurtured and sustained by the Holy Spirit: “And I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth …” (John 14:16-17). This Advocate, this counselor, this Spirit of truth is in us, is with us at all times. The Holy Spirit nurtures us, leads and guides us in loving others as Christ has loved us.
“Are we done?”
Jesus says, “Yes, we’re done with me being with you. But I will not leave you orphaned, alone, unloved and uncared for. No, you’re not done with the life of loving one another and loving the world. I will send the Spirit to carry you along the rest of the way.” Jesus comes to us today to assure us that, in the midst of life’s surprising twists and turns and comings and goings, he will never be done with loving us.
Amen and amen.