Readings for Sixth Sunday of Easter 13 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 6 Textweek

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Just like last week, the Gospel this week is from the farewell speech of Jesus at the Last Supper, the last discourse, so this is the ‘I’m leaving and I’m telling you that I’m going’ type speech. Probably worth at some point in the weeks ahead, doing a comparison between this and Tony Blair’s farewell speech and see where they align and don’t align. So today’s Gospel is Jesus saying ‘Goodbye, I’m leaving’, and he’s leaving the disciples. To gain some sense of that, we might want to just recall the times that we have done exactly the same, times that we have said farewell, the goodbyes that we’ve made at airports probably all over the world, the tears that come with saying goodbye, the feelings of loss, that part of us that wants to stay and that part of us that either has to or also wants to go, and how there’s a tension between the two. Recall the times that we’ve said goodbye to a loved one: particularly with death there seems to be an acute sense of separation, and then there’s the feeling of emptiness for those who are staying behind. There’s great power in those transitions, those farewells, those goodbyes, and we know there’s great power there because they are so easy to recall and to recapture. I was having a smoke in the back garden the other day and the poinsettias were popping over the wall and they’re from Joan Cossie’s garden, Joan Cossie who spent many years here and used to be here every morning, setting the church up every Sunday. And I can remember digging them up from her garden and planting them over here. So how easy it is, to recall and recapture where there has been separation.

Quite often when we do make those farewells we want a reassurance that this isn’t always going to be a separation and you hear it over and over again - we will stay in touch or maybe we will be in touch. Now the Gospel today is all about this and more. ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ It’s quite an unusual thing to say as part of a farewell – there is a leaving and that is really clear; there’s an acknowledgement of love and then there is a promise of coming and abiding, and the relationship - that sort of movement of separation and yet also completeness - is mirrored in the words that follow: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’ By now this is not making sense to the disciples, and those that have got a clue are already tapping into doubt. So we get then, almost a knowing in the words of Jesus, that this is going to elicit unbelief, so he goes on to say, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid’ – listen and stay with what I’m speaking, what you’re feeling and what you’re glimpsing.

What the Gospel I think is inviting us to do is to look at relationships with new insight, with a vision that goes beyond what we see. And that’s what really goes on at airports, it’s what goes on in funerals, we look beyond that which we can see: I can see that you’re leaving, but ‘I will stay in touch’ makes no sense unless you’ve tapped into the unseen – of course you won’t stay in touch, I’m just about to step onto the plane and go to the other side of the world, yet we know that we will be in touch. In the last discourse at the Last Supper, it’s as if what’s being offered is the divine invitation. We are creatures of the divine, we are created in the image of the divine and we are at one with the divine, called to see the unseen and to bring about something that is more than what is.

‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’ That peace is more than the absence of war, rather it’s a relationship: ‘Peace I leave with you’ - it’s a relationship and it’s our relationship with all. ‘My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives’. At different times in our lives and in our days, we catch glimpses of the divine imagination, we get glimpses of understanding: I know what that means, ‘peace I give to you’. We glimpse it and it’s as if we can see a rightness beyond all of the wrongness, but we’re also tempted to stay to with what our eyes see. I mean, it’s quite logical really – if I can see it I can believe it, why not stay with it? Ironically we justify ourselves in this process with the words, ‘Better the devil you know’! It’s marvelous really isn’t it? I’m going to trust what I can see. The readings are taking us beyond that, way beyond it.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear that Paul had a vision; he saw beyond the confines of his eyes and he acts upon the vision that he sees. He left where he was and he moved, and he moved in the direction that the vision led him. Paul in that movement moves from one culture to another - Macedonia was in the Roman province of northern Greece. This is actually the story of going to Paris but it isn’t known in those terms. This is Paul’s first movement into Europe; he’s left one culture and he moves into another, and what happens is he baptizes there and he finds hospitality there. Now they’re not anticipated outcomes; they may have been desired outcomes, I don’t think they were even that. I don’t think there’s any evidence that says, ‘Ah, I’ve had this vision, I’m going to go to Europe, I’m going to baptise and I’m going to find myself very at home there.’

The vision led him, but to where and what was unknown, so what we read about in the Acts of the Apostles are the fruits that are born out of vision. The vision and the visionary movement is not about seeing the end result, it’s about seeing the direction and the journey, and the result then appears and is made manifest. If we align ourselves and move, then the fruits appear, which is why in that image from Revelation, the stream of living water that flows from the throne has got the trees either side of it that bear fruits constantly every month of the year and their leaves heal. Do not worry about the journey, do not let your hearts be troubled; just follow the road, follow the vision, follow the glimpse; move in an alignment with the divine imagination. The Acts of the Apostles really gives us or illustrates the possibility that can be realised in faith – this is the early church, the energy is still high; they don’t look to others to take responsibility, rather they glimpse, they see, and then there is an active re-orientation, a turning toward the light, toward the peace that is given - not the peace of the world, but to the peace that is given.

The Book of Revelation - we should really read that to music, it would be nice to hear the Book of Revelation read and we each pick a piece of music for it. It does, if you like, try and provide a total impression. It’s the last book of the Bible, what are you going to finish with, we’re going to finish on a big note; we’re going to get all the cast back on stage for the final bow. This is it, this is the last thing that you’re going to read before you put it down and go, ‘Right I’ve read the holy scriptures, I now know where I’m going.’ It’s got to have a bit of guts to it and it’s as if in the Book of Revelation there’s an image and a picture that is painted to underline and to colour in every glimpse of the divine imagination that we will have - every dream, every wish, every desire, every hope, is coloured in in those images. ‘And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me (vision) the holy city, Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance of a very rare jewel’; and we read further on in verses 23 and 24, ‘the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light.’ It’s a wonderful image. And what we’ve now got in the three readings is Paul leaving as he journeys to Macedonia, we’ve got Jesus leaving in the Gospel at the Last Supper, and now in the apocalyptic imagination of Revelation we also have a sense of movement. Jerusalem, the old Jerusalem, is left behind; the New Jerusalem is imagined and comes into being.

The Gospel, the book of Acts and the Book of Revelation suggest, call us through and with the divine to a movement, to a movement and to a creative endeavour. We cannot leave things as they are, nor can we accept that others will create for us, because in Christ it is us, it is the ‘we’ that are called to be the creators of tomorrow. The context that these readings are set in, each of them – the context of Jesus’ ministry, the context of the emerging early church in the Acts of the Apostles, and arguably, the context in which the Book of Revelation was written, was a context in which the world was already hierarchically organized. It was already in the hands of the state and the church, ruled by self-serving, corrupted officials – the scribes, the Pharisees, the Herods the Pilates. The world was filled with fear, there was oppression, there wasn’t freedom, there were occupying forces; the world was filled with those who saw power for their own ends. The world that the scriptures come out of and speak into is not a world of the past, but it’s our world, it’s the world of today. Like so many, we too will be drawn into the world that our eyes see - I can cope with that, I can do something about it, I can fence myself off and put nice things in my garden so that what I see looks okay.

But what we get through the scriptures and through those glimpses that we find, those wonderful moments in our own lives, is a world that looks different, a world that is illuminated by divine light, a New Jerusalem which is not the old with a coat of paint, and the Gospel reading is taking us today into that vision that lies beyond our sight. Each of us has got some sense of what the New Jerusalem is and yet we’re not called individually in the same manner to make it happen. This isn’t a job for us to line up and say ‘right, let’s do it,’ and we all grab a shovel and we go out and start building: each of us will hold a different piece of the jigsaw. The important thing is to get, no, it is not up to me to do it, nor is it up to you to do it, but it is up to us, as One Body we are called, to realise the New Jerusalem. So our calling is to participate in the work of the One Body. Maybe that’s the gift of peace, quite a different peace from the peace of the world. It’s a peace that enables us to know our oneness.

So as we continue our journey from Easter to Pentecost, from the Cross, from the tomb, towards the dancing flame of the divine spirit, just let’s be aware of what is it that we have faith in. What is it that we have faith in? If you could list them out, look at the trends, look at the path that you’re on, the path from the tomb to here, from Easter to today, look at the path that you’re on. It probably won’t look a lot different to the path that you were on if you were to move Easter back five years or ten years, but at some point you’ll start to notice movements on that path. Become aware just of the path that you’re on, become aware of the movements that carry you along. Why keep going? Most people in the Western world that go to work, apparently do so because of the pay packet at the end of the week or the month. So they’re aware of the path they’re on and they’re aware of the movement that keeps them and carries them on that path. Let’s become aware of that in life, because it might be that we’re living in exactly the same process. What are the signposts that guide us along the way? Become aware also of where we are lost, where we’re afraid and where we don’t have courage to let go. When things get bad most of us end up with white knuckles because we hang on for dear life. What we hear in the readings today is, ‘No, let go’.

The Book of Revelation gives us a lot of help, a lot of encouragement. ‘See I am making all things new’, ‘to the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life’, and in a few chapters earlier, ‘I will not leave you orphaned’ - we’re not going to be left alone in all this.

Pentecost is a time of movement for us to realise. We’re not going to come along on Pentecost Sunday and find that ‘here’s your box of Pentecost, take it home’ - it’s a movement within for us to find and to make real. Choose to live in the divine flame, a flame which gives light and at the same time consumes all into itself. Be aware then of how much time and energy we spend maintaining what is, rather than realising what we might become and so become a part of.

Remember that Resurrection is not a one-off event; you didn’t have to be there on the day. It’s inside, it’s a vision, it’s an orientation, it’s eternal; it’s that which calls us into the New Jerusalem. And Mothers’ Day is a fitting time to sit back, to take stock, to become aware, for what is Mothers’ Day but a celebration of birth? Each and everyone is called to birth the divine, so today and every day, let’s celebrate each other.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris