Eastertide – Communion of Love

Icon of the Ascension

Easter 7 2020
Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 1:1–14, Psalm 47, 1 Peter 4:12-19, John 17:1-11

Last year during Eastertide, the second lesson each week was from the book of Revelation. Revelation tells the church that the risen Christ is standing right there in the midst. The churches are in all different situations. Some are having internal conflicts; some are being persecuted; some are tempted by their prosperity. This is still true today.

The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is a revelation that Christ is on his throne, that he is being worshiped, and that his purposes will be achieved. In the end of all things, that the kingdom of God will fully be realized in this world, as in the story of the new Jerusalem. We even see the trees for the healing of the nations, and there’s some sense that even now the church is operating in the mystery of the new Jerusalem. God’s people play a role in bringing the healing balm of the Gospel to all nations. In reading, the Revelation, we meditate on the risen Christ who stands in our midst.

This year, the gospel of John has been our primary text for the Easter season. Throughout John there is a consistent reference to Jesus and the Father, his communion with the Father. It starts from the very first chapter, in the first verse. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-12)

We’re introduced to the mystery of the relation between Jesus and the Father. As I say Father, this is consistently God. Jesus is referring to God as Father. Throughout John, many people misunderstand what Jesus is saying.  He is consistently revealing a communion of love.

When we get to the Last Supper, Jesus meditates more deeply with the disciples on the nature of this relation between him and the Father. He specifically talks about this a communion of love. Some things are still a mystery to the disciples. Jesus says that the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son. He says, “The Father glorifies the Son, and the Son glorifies the Father.” He says that, even as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, disciples will be in Christ. And in that sense, they will also participate in this communion of love.

Another thing Jesus will talk about in John 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 is his obedience to the Father, his submission to the Father. This is a submission that is born of the communion of love between him and the Father. He is consistently is pouring out his life in obedient submission to the Father. He calls the disciples into this communion. He says participation is entering into loving submission of communion between the Son and the Father. He speaks often of the disciples’ obedience, expressed in love. Obedience is not an attempt for acceptance, it is an expression of love.

In today’s Gospel, as Jesus prays to the Father he shares some of His final words to His disciples before the cross. The disciples will be thrust into a world of confusion with the next 24 hours. Many of their expectations will overturned and they will experience fear and dread. Even though Jesus has been reassuring them, it will feel like an inconsolable loss. We feel that grief in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus addresses their struggles in his final meal and prayer with them, but he also speaks to the generations of followers to come who will face persecution, rejection, the strange practices and belief systems of various Gentile communities, and even dissent within their own Christian communities.

We are part of that community of faith who live in a world that is often difficult to understand or interpret. It is tempting to try and escape the world as we know it, or to follow some neatly formed system that gives us all the answers to explain why things happen around us as they do. In this moment of time, we face a worldwide pandemic where thousands of people have died, and many others will suffer. Even as we try to grapple with the why of such a virus, we also struggle within competing narratives as to what is actually happening. Did someone engineer this? Is this the judgment of God? Is this a worldwide political conspiracy meant to topple governments? Some voices sound so certain of their theories, but many of us are left in the center, wondering where is God in the midst?

If we come to the Scripture, looking for a matrix that will make all these challenges fit together, we may be looking for the wrong thing. If we come as disciples of Christ, seeking to hear His voice, I believe we can and will hear His words of wisdom and peace and guidance in the midst of a troubled age.

Just as Jesus words of love and communion are an encouragement to the disciples, they are an encouragement to us. As He speaks, Jesus is preparing the disciples for His coming death, but also for His resurrection and ascension, and for the coming of the Spirit who will continue the ministry of Jesus in their midst.

Today’s prayer opens with glory. Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Now, why would this be the hour of glory? John Chrysostom in meditating on this, speaks of a glory as light shining into something. It is the hour of revealing. It is the hour in which the Father will reveal the Son to the world, that the Son will be lifted up literally on the cross for all men to see. He will be lifted up, and the mystery of the communion of love, and the purposes of God will be revealed. And so the cross then becomes a point of Revelation. But not simply the cross. Jesus in that prayer is suggesting, he’s giving references to the cross, to his death, his resurrection, and to his ascension. And all these are part of the unveiling of the glory of God. We see in verse 5 that this giving and receiving of glory was before all creation: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

As Jesus speaks these words and has reiterated this communion of love between the Son and the Father throughout this final meal, He is opening the life of God before His disciples. Even as He opens this mystery of God, His Spirit will open the hearts of His disciples to enter into this communion of love. This unveiling of mystery is a gift of knowledge, but not knowledge that puffs up. Rather knowledge that leads to adoration and the exchange of love. The Holy Spirit will glorify the Father and the Son by revealing this love to us. By His grace, our hearts open and begin to trust in God’s absolute faithfulness revealed in Jesus Christ.

Let me back up and reiterate one aspect of the Father glorifying the Son and the Son glorifying the Father. This glory is shining light or opening our eyes to the beauty of God in all of creation. Before the world was created, there was this exchange of love between the Father, Son, and Spirit. In His great generosity, the Father opens this communion to create our universe, our world, our plants and trees and animals and of course humans. The Father, Son, and Spirit demonstrate absolute faithfulness to this creation by sustaining it and even raising up man and woman as caretakers of this new creation.  Even as humans turn away from God through disobedience, He does not abandon them. He demonstrates His faithful love by making provision to sustain man and woman. This faithfulness is most explicitly revealed or glorified in the coming of Jesus: His life, his death, His resurrection, and His ascension make a way for us to know God again.

As Jesus says in our passage this morning, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Within the mystery of this communion of love between Father and Son, we learn that the Father has given the Son authority over all flesh (specifically humans) to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given Him.

In a sense, we are hearing John 3:16 from a different angle. Within the giving of glory between Father and Son, the Father gives the Son authority to give eternal life to those whom He has chosen. What is eternal life? This knowledge of the Father and the Son. This is a knowledge that is not about human mastery but about relationship. It is a knowledge that leads to shared love. There is a danger at this point to separate this mystery from within this communion of love into a kind of knowledge that gives me a system. In other words, some read these words and try to solve the mystery of predestination and human freedom.

We have a tendency to grasp at knowledge for mastery of our lives and our world, but that kind of knowledge, that kind of control is not what is offered to us. Rather, we are offered knowledge that leads to trust, to absolute dependence upon the Father, to obedience to the call of God in Christ. As Jesus continues the prayer, He prays specifically for the eleven disciples present and He prays for those who will come to believe as a result of these disciples. The disciples of Christ in every age will live in this world with all the difficulties of this world. They will face opposition by people and systems opposed to God, and they will also face opposition from the evil one.

This will lead to confusion and struggle and suffering at times just we like face at this time with the pandemic and all the information given to us on a daily basis. In this of this confusion, the Spirit gives us grace to turn toward the mystery of love between Father, Son, and Spirit. The Spirit helps us to grow up into this communion of love through submission and obedience as well as grace and joy.

As we grow, we grow in wisdom to follow His way. We may not be able to answer all the pandemic questions, but we can follow the way of love and the way of God through the midst of this struggle.

Together as disciples of Christ we are growing up into the life of God. We are beginning to model that very life of giving all to one another and receiving all from one another. Our unity will not be one of enforced restrictions but abundant and shared life. Our lives become self-offerings of love to God and one another in service and prayer. Just as the exchange of glory between Father and Son and Spirit opens to create a world, to create and redeem humans, our communion also opens to recreate our world and to welcome others into this family of God.

We are becoming the little leaven that is leavening the bread; the seed that is planted in the ground that will grow up to a harvest. We are becoming the mustard seed that is planted and grows up, not into a giant tree, but into actually a bush. The mustard tree is simply a giant bush. But it will be so glorious that all the birds of the air, all the nations, so to speak will come to find refuge in this little unimpressive mustard tree. The saints from age to age appear to be fading and tiny, but even their apparent failure is the very glory of God revealed in the midst of the world. In Christ, we join in the renewing all things, so that the whole world will be brought into the communion of love by the grace of God and by Christ.

In a small way, St Brendan, plays a role in this long story. Like us, Brendan lived in a time of struggle and challenge. He was an orphan raised by a nun and he became a great leader in the Irish church. At a time in life, when many people would be ready to sit back and consider all their accomplishments, Brendan was stirred with a longing to behold the Holy Isle, or the glory of God among His people.

Brendan takes off in pursuit of this longing with a band of friends. He does not simply set off for the unknown, he sets off for the glory of God. He lets go of his own ability to even control the outcome but trusting that Jesus will lead them. As his band of spiritual adventurers goes forth, they continue to do what they know to do: they worship. They behold the mystery of God by celebrating the rhythms of the church and participating in the mystery of the Eucharist. All creation is caught up in their longing: dogs and sheep and birds and even a great whale. The sights they behold, and the eventual Holy Isle do not give them mastery but rather simply stirs a deeper longing to know and follow the love of God in Christ.

May we all pray St. Brendan’s prayer even as we take to heart the prayer of Jesus to the Father as he draws us into the communion of love.

“Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.” Amen

~ Saint Brendan the Navigator of Ireland 

May his prayer be our prayer. And may we continue this call of the disciples to be witnesses to the communion of love, and the communion of Christ in this world. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy spirit. Amen.

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