Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

This Sunday’s Gospel finds us in the upper room, it’s still Maundy Thursday.  It may seem strange to be reading about events from Holy Week during the season of Easter, but in John’s Gospel these are the chapters where we learn from Jesus himself what living into resurrection reality truly means.

Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus told his disciples that where he was going they could not follow.  This was upsetting news.  They’d been following him for three years.  They were just beginning to figure it out- they probably thought—and now Jesus was telling them he was leaving and they couldn’t come with him.

As his mortal life is drawing to a close Jesus spends his last evening with his disciples and conveys to them two realities that are difficult to hold together: he is going away, yet he will be with them always.

Jesus had, on several occasions, been preparing his disciples for his departure; he had not kept them in the dark about this.  When he departs there will be significant changes and in Sunday’s Gospel Jesus promises that despite his absence they will not be left alone.

Into this reality of impending absence comes the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, sent by God in Jesus’ name to be present with his followers.  This is the first time we read about this presence as the Holy Spirit.  The Advocate is the presence the disciples will need in order to love as they are called to love.  It will, as Jesus promises, be as if he is still with them.

Throughout the farewell discourse of chapters 14-17, Jesus makes it clear that his followers love him by serving others.  Although we might distinguish between loving Jesus, and keeping his word, and imagine that we can do one but not the other, Jesus does not recognize that distinction.  Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word…”  and love for Jesus is love in action.

To live that kind of love, Jesus’ followers will need the presence of God in their midst and Jesus offers that presence in the three promises we hear of in this Gospel pericope.

First, Jesus speaks of the home the Father will make with those who love him: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Secondly, he promises the guidance of the Holy Spirit: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

And finally, Jesus gives his own peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”.  

Jesus does more than gently wish them peaceful lives — he gives them peace.  This is not a wish.  This is a gift.  It is a gift of profound importance at this moment in the journey of Jesus and the disciples.  He knew the turmoil they would face when he was gone and he does all he can to prepare them for the next part of the journey. 

The peace Jesus gives the disciples will provide comfort for troubled hearts and courage in the midst of fear.  Throughout the events of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, as well as in the resurrection, Jesus will embody the peace he offers here.

This is not a passive peace.  It is active.  The Holy Spirit and peace will propel the disciples and later, the Church, into active discipleship and mission.  It is with the presence of this peace, given by God in Jesus’ name, which enables the disciples and us to live lives of faithfulness. 

Why tell the disciples all of this now?

As the events of the immediate–and distant future – unfold, Jesus’ followers will be able to trust that the One who loved them enough to send the Son still loves them and still seeks to dwell with them.  They will know they are not orphaned.

These are the ways those who love Jesus will continue to see and know him: in the home, the dwelling, that the Father and the Son make with them, in the promptings of and response to the Holy Spirit, and in the experience of peace that comes from Jesus and not from the world.

Jesus says he did not give peace as the world gives – a good thing.  This world is anything but peaceful most of the time.  What little peace it has to offer is provisional and tenuous.  The world cannot finally give what it does not firmly possess itself. 

The biblical idea of peace is grounded in the Hebrew word, ‘shalom.’  Shalom is more than an absence of strife or conflict.  In fact, one of the indicators for Christ’s shalom, is the way it sustains us in the midst of conflict and strife.

Shalom indicates completion, wholeness, a time in the future when everything is made right.  Christ’s peace brings this hope for wholeness into the present.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Christ’s peace is not just some future hope, it is something we can experience now.  While the peace that Jesus gives is eternal, in contrast to the temporary nature of any peace we might find in the world, we do not have to wait for Christ’s peace to become real to us.  Eternity begins now.

We live in a world where people are more technologically connected than ever before, yet many remain feeling lonely and isolated.  We cannot be pulled out of loneliness and isolation by electronic means.  Feeling alone can be a profoundly difficult thing to experience.  In the Greek of John 14:25 the word Jesus uses is parakletos, or “Paraclete”.  (The NAB of our Lectionary translates it as, Advocate).  Literally parakletos is one “alongside” of someone else.   Jesus says, we are not alone; he is with us. 

It can be a dark and difficult world, fraught with sorrow and uncertainty, loneliness and isolation.  The sorrow of it all can make us lose our place, lose our peace, lose our faith; forget what we know.  But our good and loving God has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us always and to remind us of what Jesus said and promised: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The Paraclete whispers those things into our hearts, prompting us to remember what we might otherwise forget: who we are and whose we are.  Let us rest in peace now and in the world to come.

Adult Formation

Link to Sunday’s Scripture Readings: