Scripture Readings: Acts 17:22-31 | Psalm 66:8-20 | 1 Peter 3:13-22 | John 14:15-21
“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
“I just can’t wait until we can go back!”
I wonder how many times over the last two months we have heard, spoken, or thought these words? Whether we’re referring to a particular place, a favorite event, or a familiar pace and pattern of life, for many of us the urge to ‘return’ has become a persistent and growing companion. Just recently, our Province decided to allow small religious services to take place again, providing they carefully follow the government’s public health guidelines, and many other businesses and organizations are again being permitted to stir from their pandemic-induced ‘slumber’. Our parish is in the process of creating our own Operational Plan right now, which is required before we officially open up our doors again, and it seems likely that in some form or another we will be able to physically gather again soon for worship at St. Luke’s Church. But along with people all over New Brunswick, and Canada, and across the world, who are trying to figure out how we are supposed to ‘do things’ moving forward, it is becoming clear that it won’t be as simple as going back to the way things were. Though we may still hope and long to ‘go back’, the world we are ‘returning’ to is simply not the same anymore; for better or for worse, things really have been changed.
That sounds pretty bleak, I know, but there is good news all around. There is hope on the horizon, and quite a few dark days are behind us. After all, not everything in our ‘old ways’ was good, for us or for our world… and the most vital thing of all can never be taken away.
In our Gospel reading today, we heard Jesus’ words to His disciples as they were gathered together on the eve of His arrest and crucifixion. We hear Him reassuring and comforting them ahead of the trials to come, but not by pointing them back in the hopes or reclaiming their familiar pattern of life. Christ does not say to them “Don’t worry friends, this painful struggle will be over soon, and then we can all get back to the way things were before.” The hope He is offering is not about re-establishing the status quo. Instead Jesus directs their attention forward, beyond the dark days ahead, and towards the new reality that the Living God had in store for them. Through Him, Jesus promised them, His disciples will share in the life of God more intimately and powerfully than they had every imagined before.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” The promise is of His enduring presence, and of taking part in the life of God! Not only is Christ revealing His own intimate connection with God the Father, He is also showing them that, in Him, they too are invited into this communion; that as confused and frightened as they were, they would never be left alone. Jesus their beloved Master was going to share His life…God’s life with them, and all that this entails. How? By sending to them the Advocate… the Comforter… the Helper… that is, the Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Trinity, whom Christ promises will come to abide with and in His disciples forever.
This must have been miles, light-years away, from what the disciples had first thought they were signing up for. I mean, they could probably have wrapped their heads around following a holy teacher, and even a miracle-working one believed to be God’s Chosen Messiah. But it’s a huge leap to go from there to having the Holy Spirit of God indwelling a bunch of ordinary people like them. Even so, this was the world-changing reality Jesus was at work bringing about, all throughout His life, but most of all through His death and in His rising again: reconciling and reuniting humanity with the Living God, and opening up the way for God to share His everlasting life with us. The hopeful message of Easter is that Christ didn’t come simply to smooth out a few of our troubles, or to help us figure out how to become better people… that is, to help us get along a bit better in the midst of a broken world. No, He came to rescue His beloved but broken creatures, once and for all, and to bring about in us God’s new creation, by sharing His resurrection life with us.
One scholar puts it really well: “with the resurrection of Jesus God’s new world has begun; in other words, his being raised from the dead is the start, the paradigm case, the foundation, the beginning, of that great setting-right which God will do for the whole cosmos at the end. The risen body of Jesus is the one bit of the physical universe that has already been ‘set right’. Jesus is therefore the one through whom everything else will be ‘set right’.” In the Risen Jesus, we have been given a much brighter future than simply ‘going back’ to the way things were before. In Him, God is really at work recreating us and our world. In Him, things really have been changed… but ultimately for good.
So how do we move forward into this new creation God is bringing about? What does it look like to believe this Good News, and have our lives actually transformed by it?
Let’s be clear: we are talking about God’s gracious gift to us… something offered to us because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf. Last week, we heard Christ spell this out for us plainly when He says: “Believe in me” (see John 14:1-14). Ultimately, we are being called to continue to trust in and follow Jesus, who tells us Himself what this kind of faith looks like in practice: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them”(John 14:15, 21). There is no sense in saying we believe in Jesus, that we love and are devoted to Him, if we persistently turn away from obeying His commands. To believe in Jesus means to also let Him rearrange our lives… as we, step by step, learn to walk and live in obedience to Him. This is how we begin to share in God’s eternal life: by trusting Christ and, with the Holy Spirit’s aid, obeying Him.
This is not new information for many of us, I’m sure, but no matter how many times we have heard it before, this calling lays a new claim on our lives every day. There is, after all, no question of ‘going back’ in this journey of faith… in God’s new creation at work in us; we are constantly being invited further and deeper into communion with our gracious Saviour… to experience and know God’s goodness, and love, holiness, and fellowship, more and more. Christ has promised to be with us forever, abiding in us through His Holy Spirit. So with this as our comfort and Him as our guide, let us take courage and go forward. Amen. Alleluia.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 13-28 (p. 93). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.