May 17, 2020 10:00am St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL
Acts of the Apostles 8, 5-8, 14-17 + Psalm 66 + 1 Peter 3, 15-18 +
John 14, 15-21
We are back at the table of the Last Supper today, and the mood these is not exactly festive. The disciples are not comfortable with what they hear and understand. Not many of us like changes, especially those we have not chosen or have some control over. They are about to enter into a time of instability and uncertainty. They do not want to let go of what they have. It’s been good feeling like someone important moving around with Jesus, enjoying the limelight and attention. They are the “in” group. The people “in the know”. They even sometimes have power to act like the gate-keepers who can grant or deny access to the Rabbi. What he is telling them over that meal shakes up the vision of the future, and they are not so sure it’s going to be good.
Telling them that they will not feel like orphans even though they would feel abandoned is not particularly comforting. He knew that what was coming would cause them to question everything, everything about who they were and if they could make it without him. Every one of us has had those feelings of abandonment from time to time wondering if God is really there, if God is really caring for us, protecting us, and waiting for us. It’s not hard to understand the Twelve around that table. And so, we have to do more than just sympathize with them. We have to see how it all worked out, what it meant, and what became of them. It might give us some reason to expect that it might happen to us as well. The promise he made to them is a promise made to us as well, a promise renewed and strengthened when we gather around this table.
This entire passage is well crafted challenge for us to see and experience the difference between being “in” and being “with”. Listen again to what he says speaking of the Holy Spirit, “But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.” Which is better, we might ask, as I’m sure the disciples were wondering at first. Then he says: “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” There is no “with” here. What is offered to us is the very relationship with the Father that Jesus has enjoyed, and we are left to think perhaps, that being “in” is better than being “with.” It’s all part of that intimacy of John’s Gospel, and the kind of intimate relationship Jesus has come to establish between God and God’s creation.
The invitation here is to a new level of union with the Father through the Father’s Son. An invitation that leads us straight to this altar because it was at the Table of the Last Supper where these words of promise and invitation were spoken. This is the end of all separation and the final complete act on the part of Jesus completing his mission on this earth. We can be one with God when Christ is within us. This indwelling comes when we freely choose to accept the invitation to union and desire to live out of the energy we call grace. Our union with Christ will empower us to accomplish what he has done, and more besides, as he said in verses just before today’s reading began. “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”
As I was reflecting on these extraordinary and powerful verses of John’s Gospel, a great old hymn kept running through my mind. It comes from an old Gaelic poem called “St. Patrick’s Lorica.” (A “lorica” was a mystical garment that was supposed to protect the wearer from danger, illness, and guarantee entry into Heaven.) It is a musical masterpiece in my opinion. It speaks of binding unto myself the strong name of the Trinity. The verses are many invoking the Trinity, the events of Christ’s life, Virtues, aspects of God, and everything from which we might need protection, and the final verse sings out: “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet and in danger, Christ in the hearts of all that love me, Christ in the mouth of friends and stranger.
Let it be so for us who have passed through the most unique and somewhat frighten Easter Season ever. Yet, Christ is within us, and Christ is before us. The strange way we have communicated these past many weeks leads me to suggest that in conclusion to this homily, you might listen to this great old hymn and take comfort and courage from its bold claim that expresses the promise Christ has made to us.