Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Easteradmin | 2 May 2010
“Because I go to my Father”
“Elvis has left the building,” it is famously said, indicating that there would be no more encores. Well, here, I hope, Jesus has not left the building! But the question for our culture and day is whether we have left him in our indifference, if not our outright hostility to Christian doctrine and life.
There is a paradox in the last three Sundays of Easter that is captured in the recurring refrain signaled in the Gospels for those Sundays. The recurring refrain is “because I go to my Father.” Jesus prepares the disciples for his going away which is the condition of his being with us in his body, the Church. It is the so-called “farewell discourse” of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel.
The Gospel engages the world. That is not the same thing as being collapsed into the world or being conformed to the world. Nor is it about making accommodations to the world with respect to the agendas and issues of our day. There have always been such tendencies and temptations. They can be, perhaps, the occasion for the discovery or recovery of the deeper truths of the Gospel. “The Spirit of truth,” it is said in today’s gospel, “will guide you into all truth.”
But what is that truth? Is it simply something which we happen to agree upon today only to change our minds tomorrow? Is the truth simply our acquiescence to the loudest voices drumming their mantras of social and political correctness into our heads? Is truth simply the will of those in power? Is it simply our feelings and opinions? No. Complementary to this statement about “the Spirit of truth,” is the equally important statement that we will hear at Pentecost, namely, that the Holy Spirit “shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.” Somehow truth is found in the divine relations between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; in short, in the divine life opened to view through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Such things belong to what is revealed. But what is revealed engages us in the world of our everyday experiences without our experiences being made the measure of the truth of what is revealed. This is the great challenge of the Gospel for our day, to realize that the Gospel signals the redemption of human experience by gathering everything to God in mercy and truth as against the idolatry of human experience which demands that everything be accountable to our whims and wishes; as if we were God, as if our experiences, our feelings and our opinions were themselves divine.
Jesus is talking about going away in the twofold sense of his Passion and Ascension. His going to the Father is the fundamental principle of the meaning of his life as the eternally begotten Son of the Father, the one who is ever προς τον θεον. The Word which was “in the beginning” is ever towards God, with God, and is God. That Word is the Son who is ever oriented towards the Father. He “ha[s] come,” he says, “to do the will of the one who sent [him].” The Word who is the Son tells us that “it is expedient for [us] that [he] go away,” that in his going away from us, first, into death and, then, into glory, there is the promise of his sending the Comforter – the Strengthener, the Counsellor – these are all terms for the Paraclete – in short, the Holy Spirit. In every way, we are being drawn into the Trinitarian fellowship which is the true meaning of Communion.
These comings and goings of God engage the world and open us out to a spiritual understanding of our humanity and world. The epistle, too, for today talks about “every good gift and every perfect gift” coming down to us “from above,” “from the Father of lights” who “[brings] us to birth by the word of truth,” “the implanted word” which we are bidden to “receive with meekness.” What is suggested here is the necessity of our engaging the Word, the necessity of our taking a hold of what God reveals to us in the witness of the Scriptures. There is, in short, a double engagement: the Gospel engages the world, but we, too, must engage the Gospel.
Both these aspects of our life in the body of Christ are ultimately rooted and grounded in the comings and goings of God with us. His coming and going from us provides the basis of our coming to God and our going from him into the world to do his will and to proclaim his truth. In the comings and goings of God we learn something about the mystery of God, on the one hand, and something, too, about the mystery of our humanity, on the other hand. We are opened out to a spiritual understanding of our humanity in relation to the life of the Trinity, the ultimate life of the Spirit.
In God’s comings and goings, God engages with our world and day. In his presence we are constantly being challenged about the meaning and nature of our humanity; we are awakened to the possibilities of a new life, a new life that is lived for and with God. That means a change, a transformation with respect to our lives, for “we should be a kind of first-fruits of all his creation,” no longer defined by the old ways of sin but by the Word and Spirit of God.
It means a whole new outlook and that whole new outlook challenges everything. The key word here is ελεγξει, meaning to reprove or convict: the world stands convicted “of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment.” What does that mean? It means that the Gospel confronts the world of our unbelief – all sin is a kind of atheism, for we act as if there were no God. The Gospel confronts the world of our self-righteousness – as if we were the measure of all that is right and true in ourselves; to the contrary, the true righteousness of our humanity is to be found in the Son’s going to the Father. The Gospel confronts the world in judgment; “the prince of this world is judged” and is found wanting because this is God’s world, “the world God so loved that he gave his only-begotten Son.” The Gospel’s engagement with the world challenges us and that challenge inescapably means judgment.
But in our engagement with the Gospel we discover something more. We discover the redemptive power of God’s love that frees us to God. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we discover that we are embraced in the Father’s love. We discover the blessing of the divine communion of the Trinity.
In the mystery of the Resurrection, we are engaged with the God who has engaged us. He goes but not simply and immediately from us. He goes to the Father. And that is our blessedness.
“Because I go to my Father”
Fr. David Curry
Easter IV, 2010