(Note: there is no pre-recorded video of this sermon since I was out of town at my father's funeral this week. The sermon can be watched on the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves YouTube channel)En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.
Our gospel today is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse given at the Last Supper, and it begins with “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” He goes on to say that those, “ 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.”
Is Jesus telling us that his love of us is conditional on our obedience? It sounds like it since it says, if this then that. But the word we translate as “if” isn’t a conditional in the original Greek. It’s a word that points to a future possibility that experience determines.
Also, this teaching has nothing to do with obedience. That’s a whole different word in Greek and it isn’t present here.
So, Jesus is saying: When you love me, you will discover that you will maintain and continue what I have commanded you to do. So the real question is: what did Jesus command us to do?
Jesus is about to enter the most difficult moment of his human experience and the disciples are terrified and confused. They don’t understand what he is saying to them - again. But honestly, how could they? It sounds like riddles or circular logic: God is in Jesus, who is in us, and we are in him, and through him, we are in God… and because he lives we also will live.
Perceiving the fear and confusion among his disciples Jesus speaks directly to it saying to them (and to us), I will not leave you comfortless or alone. I am coming to you in another way - to comfort you and support you forever.
One day, he says, you’ll know the truth of this co-abiding with the Divine Spirit through me. It’s a truth that is beyond human logic, as much today as it was then, and can only be known by the experience of it again and again in our lives. Sometimes, it’s a series of light bulbs going off in sudden realization. Other times it’s a slow turn of the dimmer switch until, one day, the light comes on fully.
I remember about 3 weeks into our Greek class in seminary and we were all feeling so overwhelmed by how vastly different Greek was, from the alphabet to the layers of meanings, and the many conjugations and tenses. Our professor assured us that one day, we’d just get it, and he snapped his fingers.
Oh sure, we thought. Easy for him to say! But he was right. One day, it suddenly all fell into place and the learning began to happen at lightning speed like a wormhole had been opened.
That was Jesus’ promise. On that day, you’ll get it! You’ll know that “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” When that happens, you will have spiritual understanding, and my commandments will be within you, and you will be able to preserve them for all time and continue to live in them now and always.
On that day, you will know union with divine love. You will know that you are cherished by God who will be eternally faithful and loyal to you, and I will be revealed to you in ways you couldn’t have understood before, and it will change everything!
Our beloved Dame Julian of Norwich speaks of this experience so simply yet eloquently. Here are her words:
“I desired in many ways to know what was our Lord's meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same.”
This is the love in which “we live and move and have our being” as Paul quoted from the poets of his time… the love who “holds our souls in life and will not allow our feet to slip” as the psalmist says. It all boils down to love: divine, eternal, sacrificial, joyful, mutual love.
This doesn’t change the fact that we will know suffering, doubt, and darkness throughout the course of our lives. In addition, we may get it, as Jesus said we would, then lose it again, and get it again, over and over throughout the course of our lives.
Knowing this love with spiritual understanding means that we will never be alone in any of the “changes and chances of this life.” (BCP, 133) We will never be comfortless. We will always be, as Dame Julian says, clothed in the love of God, which “wraps and holds us… enfolds us for love and will never let us go.”
We also have each other. Prayer not only “fastens us to God” as Julian says, it also fastens us to one another, connecting the love of God in you to the love of God in me, as it were. Those connections are real and through them God can change the world, working in and through us.
Since Julian of Norwich has been so present in this reflection on the Word, let’s close with the prayer assigned to her feast day, which was just last week: May 8.
Let us pray: Lord God, who in your compassion granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Icon written by Anne Davidson, Diocese of Western Michigan. Used with permission.
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