Beyond companionship – Participation in the divine life

Sermon for VII of Easter – John 14.15 – 21

    In our Gospel reading, Christ affirms his love for disciples. John tells us Jesus ‘loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’. (Jn. 13.1) Notice the langue he is using, Jesus says he will go, but he will not leave them orphaned v.18. To be an orphan is to be deprived of parents, of father, or mother. It is to lack, father’s love, guidance, protection, and companionship. To be an orphan is to be defenceless left at the mercy of the world, with no father, or mother to care or to guide you through the maze of life.

   In our Gospel reading today, Christ is on his way to the Cross, he is leaving the disciples behind. Hence, time is coming when they will be confused, vulnerable, and if left by themselves they will be swallowed by the harsh realities of the world. He tells them ‘I am coming to you’. And by this, he is not merely speaking of his appearance after the resurrection, but of the sending of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. In fact, he goes as far as saying, ‘it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you.’ Jn. 16.7.

   The question we ask today: why does Christ say it is better that he goes so that the Spirit may come to us? How does Christ’s physical absence be better for the disciple and the Church? Remember that Christ has been with his disciples in the flesh for about three years. They have enjoyed his fellowship, his companionship. They have enjoyed togetherness, following him across the count, as his friends. However, he says it is to their advantage that he goes away so the Holy Spirit may come.

   So, let us ask the question again: How is Christ’s departure is advantageous for the disciples? Surely, it would have been better, if he resided in the flesh with them.

Incorporation – participation

The clue to is in the reading. Christ says, ‘On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’ v. 20

  Christ’s mission was not to be confined to living among us for a time on earth. And the aim of the Christian life is not limited to companionship with Christ. To be a Christian does not simply mean to walk with him side by side; the objective of the Christian life goes beyond togetherness with Jesus. Togetherness in the sense of, one individual walking beside another individual. Christ wants to take us beyond companionship to participation in his divine life. Let us listen carefully to the language he uses. ‘On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’ v. 20. Christ has come to unite us to himself; to incorporate us into his divine life. Soon after our reading, he speaks of himself as the true Vine and us as the branches (Jn. 15). He asks us to abide in him. Not to exist beside him, but to be grafted in him. ‘Abide in me’, he says. We are called to participate in a close union with Christ, to be incorporated into the life of God. Christ says, ‘because I live, you will also live’. Jesus being our head, and we his body, there is oneness, a union with him. We are given to dwell in him as he dwells in us. Without the indwelling of Christ, without our incorporation into his life, we are dead and have no life in ourselves.

 The Holy Spirit – the παρκλητος

   It is at this point we begin to grasp the person and work of the Holy Spirit, ‘the Father’, Jesus tells us, ‘will give you another Advocate’ v.16. Christ highlights the work of the Holy Spirit. The grafting into Christ is not possible without the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who dwells in the Church. Even when we say Christ dwell in the Church, we are saying that Christ by the Spirit dwells in the Church. Holy SpiritWithout the Holy Spirit, Christ’s person and work remain alien to us. Without the Holy Spirit, Christ is a mere historical event, with no everlasting impact on our lives. All the things we take for granted, our knowledge of Christ, our experience of his love, his forgiveness, our understanding of his death and resurrection are, all, made possible by the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul tells us, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”. Gal. 4.6. The Spirit dwells in our hearts, and it is because of the Spirit that you can call upon God as our Father, and Christ as our brother.  The Holy Spirit makes Christ who resides in the heavenly temple present to us here on earth, in our daily lives. And he makes us present to him on the thorn of glory, where he resides as our High Priest, at the Right hand of God, the Father.

Epiklesis – Invocation

   And of course, it is here, during the Liturgy that we experience the richness of Holy Spirit’s work. It is here that Christ becomes present to us in a spatial sense, and we present to him in the heavenly places. The Greek word Christ uses when promising the coming of the Spirit is παράκλητος paraklētos. This is a rich word, and hard to capture in English. In our Bibles, we usually read Christ saying, ‘I will send you another Advocate, Helper, or Comforter’. While this is true, there is another nuance that these words do not convey. paraklētos also mean I will send you the one, who is invoked – invoked in prayer – or called upon in prayer.

 In the Old Testament Temple, the Levites invoked God, by their prayer, their praise and worship, and God responded by his presence, residing in the temple among them. (cf. 1 Chron. 16.4). In our Eucharistic celebration, there is a moment we called Epiklesis, that is Greek for Invocation. It is the part where the Priest, on behave of the people, prayerfully invokes the Holy Spirit to come upon the Bread and Wine and to make them become Christ’s Body and Blood. This is where the priest prays, ‘Lord…grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit, and according to your holy will, these gifts of bread and wine may become to us the body and blood of Jesus Christ’. (Cf. St. Basil the Great, On the Spirit VIII).

Conclusion

   I said earlier that Christ in our reading was forewarning his disciples about his departure, preparing them for the fact that he will no longer be resending with them in the flesh. But here, through the work of the invoked Holy Spirit, Christ becomes present to us in body and blood. For it is at the Altar that we know we are not left orphaned. At the Altar, we are aware that he is among us, bestowing his love, and grace on us. Hence, as we receive him, and in obedience to his command, we take him, take his love, and his grace to our local community, to the lives of those whom God has entrusted to us. To the broken world, to our neighbours, the vulnerable, and the broken hearted.

    Moreover, here at the Altar, and as we consume his body and blood, we are incorporated into Christ’s life, we experience the meaning of we in him and him in us. It is in the mystery of the Mass we experience his words ‘because I live, you will also live’. We who are dead by nature, who have corruptible, decaying bodies, feed on the living one, and because we are feeding on him, our bodies receive the hope of resurrection.

Let me end by a quote from the Second Century Church Father, St Irenaeus of Lyons, who writs,

‘For as the earthly bread once it has received the invocation of God upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but the Eucharist, and is made up of two elements, heavenly and earthly, so too our bodies, once they have received the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but contain within themselves the hope of resurrection’. In Against Heresies, IV. 20. Amen.

 

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