Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 14:23-29
In the early months of the pandemic, when we were more or less in full shut down mode, perhaps one of the silver linings for some of us in that upheaval was the gift of a slower pace of life. The comparative absence of activity revealed to many just how busy and complicated our lives were.
But as the months and now years have worn on in the pandemic, the voids have become filled again with activity. For many, in the absence of commuting but now working from home, we have perhaps discovered that there’s more time for more work! There are fewer of the life-giving interruptions of pleasant conversations with colleagues or lunches out and more. In my New York days, I claimed the down time of riding trains to and from work events as the occasion to mentally recharge. That’s no more. What’s left for many is the grind of work and more work as we give in to the craze of workaholism.
I have to confess to you that ministry in the pandemic is not as fun as it used to be because of the comparative absence of regularly and casually seeing people as a natural feature of daily rhythms – in the office at church, in people’s homes, in visits to hospitals and nursing homes. So many of those occasions have been limited because of the pandemic. That remains true today as we continue precautions in relation to ever new, ever more transmissible variants of the virus.
Many, thus, live in exacerbated ways with the tyranny of productivity, of doing, and doing, and more doing. These conditions may also be true for many of you who are retired. Retirees often tell me you’re busier in retirement than you were in your working days!
In reaction to this, many are chronically in fight or flight mode, especially as we confront social horizons continually filled with new crises. The weight of such burdens can become unbearable, and all of this erodes our mental health and quality of life.
In response to such burdens we carry, listen again to Jesus’ good word, Jesus’ gospel word, recorded in today’s reading from John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What lovely, compelling gospel words. And there’s more gospel to be heard when we feel that we cannot easily go on with business – or busyness – as usual. Listen again to this: “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.” God with Christ in the Spirit – that is, our Trinitarian God – will come to make a home with us! Magnificent!
With still more gospel consolation, John records Jesus as having said this, too: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” In other words, as Jesus says in John just prior to today’s passage, that he will not leave us orphaned (cf. John 14:18) because of the Spirit’s promised coming.
The long and the short of these gospel words of promise is that Jesus invites us to slow down. To do less. To be more. To be at home with the one who makes a home with us. To discover Christ’s peace, not as the world gives. Trusting all the while there is much blessing to be had by God’s grace and initiative and God’s actions, and not in our own doing and productivity. Focusing on our efforts, for us Lutherans, is works righteousness – when we conclude that it’s up to us and our busy, frantic efforts to concoct blessing for ourselves. That’s not the gospel.
To do less, to be more – that’s what it means to keep Jesus’ word in love. Lovingly keeping Jesus’ word suggests less activity and more sitting there in leisure before Christ in wondrous adoration.
If Jesus promises that he and the Father will come to us to make their home with us, we do well simply to receive this gift in confidence and with gratitude. We are beckoned to be like Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his every word, and not like Martha, busy in the kitchen.
The biblical Greek for making a home suggests that God will craft an abode with us, that is to say, God will abide with us in leisure, 24/7, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, century after century.
It is in this existential and mental state of abiding where the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, is present to continue to teach us, reminding us of everything that Jesus said to us. And where does the Spirit do this teaching and reminding. Right here, right now in our weekly Sunday assemblies ever since the Spirit was unleashed centuries ago on the Day of Pentecost.
Given the great gift of our gatherings, we do well not to rush through this holy hour. Rather, we take our time, because Jesus Christ takes his time with us.
So it is that we hear in today’s first reading that Paul took his time once he and his companions arrived in Philippi. “We remained in this city for some days,” it says in Acts. Enough time to linger on the Sabbath for prayer outside the city gate by the river. Enough time for holy conversation with the likes of Lydia who ended up being baptized along with her whole household.
Lydia had this to say to Paul and the others: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon them. The leisure of staying at Lydia’s home no doubt produced many other fruits of the Spirit.
Which is to say that the fruit of the proclamation of the good news ripens for the harvest in God’s good time. Thus, we are beckoned to slow down, to dwell with the word and with each other in our Sunday assemblies and other times we gather.
When we dwell with each other around the sacred word and the sacraments as we do each Sunday, keeping Christ’s word in love, receiving the ongoing instruction of and reminding by the Spirit, then we come to realize that we are given here a foretaste of the promise we heard in today’s second reading, the vision of the holy city of Jerusalem, an eternal dwelling place even in the here and now, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.
There is no temple in the holy city, because God and Christ are the very temple we need. And there is no need for sun and moon because God and Christ are all the light we need. The gates are never shut – it’s that safe and secure. It is a city of truth, of purity, without abomination. And there is water aplenty, the water of life flowing from God’s throne through the city streets, and through the ages onto our heads and bodies in baptism. There is in the city the tree of life – Christ’s cross – giving fruit for the nations which we eat and drink in the eucharist. And we’ll see God’s face. And God’s name is written on our foreheads, as when we are sealed with the anointing of the Spirit at baptism.
We enjoy participation in such a reality every Sunday. And if we rush through things, we might just miss it. These blessings are objectively present every time we gather. That’s the truth that we can trust. But if we rush through it all, we may not apprehend in our awareness the full extent of the great gifts given to us week after week.
The call to slow down, to abide in Christ as Christ abides with us is why the Benedictine monks take their time in doing liturgy. That’s why extended periods of silence are embraced in monastic settings. That’s why Benedictine monks are asked to make a vow of stability, a promise to remain in the same community for the duration of their lives.
Maybe we’re called to be a bit more monastic in church. Thus, I invite you to slow down. But I also acknowledge in all honesty: Physician, heal thyself….
In this divine dwelling place week after week, this sanctuary beloved by us where we know and enjoy Christ with each other, the Holy Spirit continues her teaching ministry and that of reminding us of Jesus’ words, renewing and strengthening our faith. Thus, we come not only to recall the words of Jesus, but perhaps also to know and experience the fulfillment in our midst of Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What a gift to our troubled world. What a gift we bring to that world when we leave this place. Or to adapt a quote from St. Seraphim of Serov, “Acquire inner peace [I would say, receive the gift of Christ’s peace] and thousands around you will find their salvation.” May it be so among us for the healing of the nations, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.