a Homily for Easter 6A
Text: John 14:15-21
When my Dad would go on work trips; he would be gone all day. Often they were overnights. Alpena to Detroit is about five hours each way and when meetings went long, and he couldn’t make it all the way home, he’d stop and finish driving the next day. This happened often enough, probably at least monthly for years, that I got pretty used to it. I didn’t like it that night, of course. I wanted him with us. But the diocese needed him, too.
When he’d come home, the family would feel complete: as if order were restored. We all know that feeling, don’t we? But I always knew he was coming home. Some loved ones of mine didn’t/don’t have that certainty. Dad or Mom wasn’t coming home.
Or when he did, it wasn’t order restored, but unity betrayed. The unreliable one has come asking for trust and love. Fat chance of that!
We often treat Easter like a kind of family reunion–of restoration. The prodigal is home again; the savior’s sacrifice is our collective reward; Dad has come home to tuck me in, kiss my forehead and whisper I love you. I missed you. We’ll play together tomorrow.
That promise of tomorrow’s shared time fills our sleep with comfort dreams and anticipation of a day of constant, permanent attention. An unknowing promise to never leave, to always be here, and to never, ever grow old.
And yet the Easter story isn’t permanent reunion. And it isn’t restoration of what was before. It isn’t a loved one coming home and making the family whole again. Jesus is no more the conquering ruler in His second life than He was in His first. His students will have to leave school sometime.
Our gospel continues the Maundy Thursday departure story we returned to last week. The one in which Jesus dealt with who the disciples are to be after He has gone. He shows them that they know GOD already because Jesus reveals GOD.
And just like Philip, we are stuck in the particulars and the physical. Dad returning home and whispering in our ear. A literal return; a physical presence. This week, we look for an Advocate to show up, and to stay: a permanent protector or inspirer. Or at least a divine GPS.
The Holy Spirit, then, a replacement. A step-dad filling in for the deadbeat dad who is leaving forever. His claims of presence ring hollow because we want the real Jesus, the real thing with us and in us. Not the surrogate. Even if the Advocate is better. Even if our work is greater even than Jesus’s. Even if the Advocate helps us transform the world, we still don’t know what she looks like. Or feels like. Or, to be honest, what she even comes here for. Because whether or not we feel like orphans, we certainly act like we are.
The Commandment is love
Orphans we are not. I bring us back to the context of the Last Supper. Just before this part we read today, Jesus gets up from the table and washes the disciples’ feet. And He says to them
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)
A few verses later, the most telling line sneaks in like a given:
If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:17)
Then they eat and Judas leaves to betray them. After he is gone, Jesus offers them a new (old) commandment:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. (John 13:34)
As He loved them, so they love.
Jesus then speaks of Peter’s three denials, describes a house with many rooms, and declares that they know GOD because they hang with Jesus.
The disciples weren’t just worried about losing someone they loved, but also everything He was doing: everything Jesus loved. They thought that without Jesus, the mission would fail. Without Jesus to tell them what to do, the whole thing would fall apart.
So Jesus tells them to simply “keep my commandments,” which we just heard is to love one another. I love you. Love others that way. He is saying to them (and us?) You guys do the hard work of loving each other while I get GOD to send you some help.
Our greatest gift to GOD
This help, which the NRSV translates into English as “the Advocate” is Paraclete in Greek. The word does not mean leader or legal guardian or someone above. But someone beside, standing with. Not carrying us, but helping us stand. Support when we feel alone or face great conflict. Support against injustice and discord; against evil and unintended fear; or with us when we face the death of a loved one or the loss of a friend’s affection.
The promise, then isn’t isolated saving from a powerful deity in the solitude of a personal faith, but the public support for a people who follow Jesus’s teaching: loving each other as Jesus loves us. Knowing GOD because GOD is revealed to us in that very love.
Love we show one another, not because we’re happy, or even because its the right thing to do; but love shown because that is the way to know GOD.
Our greatest praise to GOD isn’t found in any of the prayers in our blessed Prayer Book or in the classic hymns we find in our hymnals. It isn’t found in our flags or our devotion to a cause. It isn’t found in the money we give (or withhold) or the busyness of the groups we join. Our greatest praise is found in our love. That’s how GOD is revealed in this world and our greatest praise to GOD comes when we love. Everything, all of this, depends upon our love.
Love shown in service to each other, in giving to each other, in blessing each other. Love shown in washing feet and anointing heads. Love shown in eating together and drinking merrily with a simple thought:
Jesus loves us and asked us to do this one little thing above all things: love one another.