1 May 2016
6th Sunday of Easter, Year C (with optional 7th Sunday Readings)
When somebody’s going away for a while, they tend to make sure everything is in good order before they go. For instance, we might plan to take a vacation, and so we leave instructions for other people, you know: “Please be sure to pick up the mail every day, and here’s some papers that need to be mailed out, or would you come over and feed the cats.” We get everything in order, and make it very clear what we need done, so we can go on vacation.
Of course, that’s similar to when people are doing estate planning or funeral planning. It’s all about making our will and our intentions very clear so others will know what to do. And that seems to be what Jesus is doing here in the gospel. When you think about it, next weekend we’ll be celebrating the Ascension of the Lord; we’ll celebrate his having gone away to be with God the Father. And so, it only makes sense that, before that happened, he would’ve made sure his Will and his Intentions were very clear to his disciples.
Now, sometimes a Last Will and Testament can be focused entirely on the distribution of assets: property, finances, a car, and so on. But it can also be rather beautiful statement about the meaning of somebody’s life. And I saw this a lot when I was a chaplain at a hospital over in La Crosse. When people were nearing death, or were going into serious surgery, what oftentimes became important was for them to make sure their loved ones knew how they felt.
They wanted to testify in a short and clear way that they loved their family. Or they wanted to make it known that they needed to forgive someone, or to ask forgiveness from someone. Sometimes there was even a simple profession of faith in God written down. Before they went away, they just had to say something to tell people what their life was all about.
And that’s what we have here in the gospel today. Here in John we find out why the Word became flesh at the Incarnation, and why Jesus did what he did, and said what he said during his ministry. Here in John we find out why he was crucified, and buried, and rose from the dead, and walked among his disciples before finally ascending into Heaven. Jesus tells us the meaning of his life on earth.
It was a testament to the truth that love and charity are more powerful than fear and hatred. His life on earth was a testament to his absolute love of God the Father . . . and his perfect love for us. And his whole Will and Purpose for being here—just in case we missed it—is “that [we] may all be one,” “that the world may believe that [the Father] sent” him, and “that [we] may also be in [God].”
This is what his life on earth was all about; it was all about exactly what he preaches to us: “Love God with all your heart, will all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your being. Love your neighbor as yourself. Go make disciples of all peoples, so that God may be all in all.” That’s the meaning of his whole earthly life in a nutshell. And before he went away, he just had to make it very, very clear to the ones he loves.
But we’ll miss the point if we stop there. That’s his earthly life in a nutshell, yes. But he also wants it to be our life as well. You know, there aren’t any barriers between the Son of God and God the Father; how many times does he say that “he and the Father are one.” They’re bound together perfectly in that reality we know as the Holy Spirit. And it’s Jesus’ Will that there be no barriers between us and God, and not any barriers among us in the Church.
In effect, Jesus is saying: “Here’s what my life on earth was all about—now go and do the same thing. I am with you to help you.”
And, really, it’s a beautiful vision Jesus puts in front of us—a vision of real unity and charity, peace and mutual respect; a vision where the boundaries between heaven and earth, and the distinction between human and divine become blurred to the point that they’re practically the same thing.
During Mass, there’s a moment where the priest pours a little water into the wine. And the prayer that’s said is this: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, as he humbled himself to share in our humanity.” And the wine and the water just mix together and they become one. It’s a little image there in the chalice of Christ’s Will for us, and (hopefully) our own desire that God will saturate everything with the Holy Spirit, and there will be no more division, anywhere, on earth or in heaven.
As we heard in the psalm: “May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you! May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear him. O God, let all the nations praise you.”
At World Youth Day 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis made his famous remarks about “making a mess.” He said: “What do I expect as a consequence of Youth Day? I expect a mess. There will be one. . . . I want a mess in the dioceses! I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, . . . that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut-in on ourselves.”
“I expect a mess.” And Jesus could’ve said the same thing. Not a “mess” in the sense of chaos and harm, but a “mess” in the sense of breaking down barriers that should never have been put up in the first place. Making a “mess” in the sense of restoring the “order” of what God wills and intends for his creation.
And so, practically speaking, we can follow the Will of Christ by, first of all, praying. One of my own concerns for the Church (and the world) is that she’s getting increasingly hyper. At some point in our history, the mark of a “true Christian” became how much activity we’re doing. A true Christian is a busy Christian. A true Christian is a hyper Christian who just can’t sit still. Of course, it’s in stillness that we can be the most intimate and one with God. And so, being too busy doing the Lord’s work can actually be a barrier to knowing the Lord.
And so, practically speaking, we can honor the Will of Christ by intentionally praying more. If you’re looking for something solid to hang onto, think of the Our Father: “Thy kingdom come, thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It takes the focus off of us, and puts it on the Will of God. And it makes us be still and challenges us to be one with God.
Another practical way to honor Christ’s Will for us is maybe to think before we speak (or get really good at saying, “I’m sorry”). You know, we all have ideas of how life can be better: at work, at home, in the parish, in the world. But we want to be careful not to let our own sense of rightness be a barrier to loving our neighbor.
As we know, some people are actually right about certain things. And some people are actually wrong about certain things. But it takes humility and an interest in the other person, to make the love of neighbor a reality. In the vision of God there aren’t any “big egos.” Of course, this is a big challenge for us (and everybody).
After all, we love to debate about things. We see it in the Acts of the Apostles when they were debating about circumcision. We argue about public policies, foreign policies, taxes, human rights, justice and equality, the Church and so on, and so on. We love to debate with one another. And that’s a great thing; it’s a very good and human activity to do. But there’s always the risk of putting up barriers; there’s always the potential of the “big ego” taking over. And then the community of disciples breaks down, as does the mingling of heaven and earth.
Now, we could go on and on about practical ways to honor Christ’s Will. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll just mention one more way. And that is: To nurture our imagination. Whenever I look at the Book of Revelation, it always strikes me how much of an imagination you have to have in order to appreciate what’s there. The experience is almost like reading a children’s book; with talking animals, or a pumpkin that turns into a carriage, or other fantastical things happening.
To honor the Will of Christ—that we love God, love our neighbors, go make of all disciples so that God will be all in all—to honor the Will of Christ, practically speaking, it’s helpful to think impractically; to think outside the box; to nurture our imagination and begin to live in the world of possibilities.
Jesus left his disciples a “statement” of what his life on earth was all about—it was about breaking down the barriers between heaven and earth; breaking down the walls between the human and the divine. And that’s his Will for us; that we be a people of love and charity. Just think of the possibilities. It’s a beautiful vision. Will we make it ours?