Sunday, April 20, 2008

this is real

He is the Way. Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness; you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth. Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety: you will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life. Love him in the World of the Flesh: and at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

-W. H. Auden, "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio" (1944)

In the name of God, merciful Father, compassionate Son, spirit of Wisdom. Amen.

This is real: We lost him. Jesus died.

This is real: God has him. He always has.

This is real: God has you, too. He has given you to Jesus, and Jesus will never lose you.

After Judas left the table, at the Last Supper, Jesus turned to his disciples, and, in the Gospel of John, gave what is called his Farewell Discourse and his Priestly Prayer. This takes up the 14th through the 17th chapters of the Gospel of John.

Today we look at an early part of that discourse, at the dinner-party that Jesus knew meant good-bye. Jesus is reassuring them - after just giving them the fright of their lives, by telling them that the Son of Man must be betrayed, and handed over to death, and crucified. The hope of the resurrection has yet to be grasped.

He assures them of three things:

They will always abide with him, and he with them: he is going to prepare the abiding-place for them, and he will return to guide them there.

There is a way to God for them, and they will have access to the Father, through him.

While he is gone, and they may be tempted to scatter, they will nevertheless be empowered to do even more than he has done.

And what is it that he has done? Remember what he just told them: the Son of Man must be betrayed, and handed over to death. He is going ahead to open the way.

He is the way: he is the door. He is the path to life beyond death, to life in the kingdom of heaven.

Even should they suffer as he has suffered, he will be with them. And beyond the threshold of death, he will vanquish death - it will no longer be the end.

Death no longer has the last word.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb. (Burial I, BCP, p. 483; Burial II, BCP, p. 500)

Christ has made a road straight through the gates of hell and on into the pastures of abundant life, eternal life, in the kingdom that has no end. This is not some other world: this is our own world, transformed by the work of Christ. And now we can live in that world transformed, as we are transformed into his image. So too we can work in this world in his Name, as we become one in spirit and mind and heart with him. This is what it means to pray in Jesus' name: not some magical formula to "make it so" but being clothed in Christ's righteousness. As we become his people we become able to do what he has done, to follow him where he has gone before, even into the valley of the shadow of death, because indeed he is with us: to guide us, to abide with us, to walk with us every step of the way.

He is the way: through him we come to God.

He is the truth: through him we know God.

He is the life: through him we abide in God.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Following Jesus, we come to the Father. Believing in Jesus, we come to know God. Through Christ we receive eternal life.

We have finally found a way to live in the presence of the Lord. It is through Christ: and because he has opened up this new way, God's way, we can move forward with confidence into the future, into the rest of our lives. And we can live in obedience to what once would have seemed impossible commands.

He has given a new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you."

We know that the love of Christ is sacrificial. It is without limit; it is full of joy.

The way of love begins with the first and greatest commandment:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

And it is borne out in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

None of these things is possible without God. In Christ all things are possible.

He has promised: that he will abide with us. He will guide us. He will lead us.

And how will he be present? And how will he guide us, lead us, abide with us?

How will he work in us and through us even greater works than he has done?

Even as Jesus ascends to the Father, the Father sends the Holy Spirit in his name, to empower, to enlighten, to guide, and to refresh his people.

"He will teach you everything and bring all things to your remembrance.... I'm leaving you well and whole. That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left-feeling abandoned, bereft.... Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14: 26-29)

You are God's people, and in God's care. And it is through the witness and work of the people of God through the ages, and through you, that God is glorified.

Through the miracle of the church, through the joy of faith, through the presence of Christ among us in the breaking of the bread, in the prayers, in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, God is glorified - and we receive eternal life.

This is the mystery of all the ages - and it is open to us to know and to share in, freely, as God's gift to humanity through his son Jesus Christ. Eternal life comes from the same source that is the origin of all life - from God in Christ.

This is amazing news, and blessed assurance. We belong to God, we are his; and he is the source of all life and all being, from the beginning to the end.

There is an unbroken chain of witness, of glory, from God the Father to his Son, to his disciples, to us - we are the people of God on the face of the earth today.

We are his witnesses; and to him we give glory. This we do and can do because we live in the presence and the power of God in the Spirit - and we celebrate our new life, together, every time we come together around the Lord's Table.

As we remember Christ's sacrifice, his offering of himself - his whole life, his witness to God the Father, his willingness to give his life to the glory of God, his resurrection to the new life and his ascension to be with God the Father - we remember and make present in our own lives the power and glory of God.

This simple act, of sharing bread and wine and the good gifts of the earth, makes present to us in our world and in our lives the practical presence of God.

It shows that God's gifts of creation are good, and that what he has made lasts. He has made the world, and he has made us to rejoice and be glad in it.

Let us celebrate together the life we have in Christ, received in his Name and to his glory. Let us live together in that new life, in Christ, rejoicing in the presence of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

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