Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

“Because I go to the Father”

There is a great fearfulness in our own age and culture. It is not just about the ceaseless spectacle of a world of wars constantly before us in such things as “international terrorism”, the Jihadis culture, or the continuing conflicts in Syria, or the humanitarian catastrophe that is the famine in Yemen, not to mention North Korea, let alone the mounting tensions between America and Iran, let alone the disturbing realities of the surveillance state of China which is Orwell’s 1984 at the same time as the so-called West largely reflects Huxley’s Brave New World. In the one, “Big Brother” is literally watching, measuring and controlling you. In the other, the problem of “making people love their servitude” under the illusion of happiness and distraction has been only too successful. Pick your dystopia. Pick your nightmare.

Our fearfulness is more about the emptiness within the soul of a culture when we can no longer identify the principles and the ideals that dignify our humanity. When we can no longer say what makes life worth living for, and mean something more than merely the pragmatic hedonism of a materialistic culture, then there is certainly nothing worth dying for either. There is nothing to live for. There is only the emptiness within, a darkness inside. Out of that emptiness can come such frightening and senseless acts of violence, death and self-destruction that have become a regular feature of our world. Such is the world of “cultural nihilism” in both its active and passive forms.

The essence of such acts is their meaninglessness. The philosopher Peter Kreeft notes that the fear for our culture is not the fear of death as it was for the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, nor is it the fear of Hell as it was for the mediaeval cultures whether Christian, Jewish, or Islamic. No. It is the fear of meaninglessness itself. There is no truth to which we should endeavour to conform ourselves and hold ourselves accountable. Our fearfulness is our emptiness, our nihilism, which we confront.

In the Gospels. Jesus confronts our fearfulness. The Gospel of the Resurrection is especially about his overcoming of our fearfulness. The message of the angel to the women, coming early to the tomb and finding it empty, was “be not afraid”. Jesus comes into the midst of the disciples whether they are huddled behind closed doors in fear or on the road to Emmaus in fearful flight from Jerusalem. His presence is peace and joy.

His presence is the counter to their fears and ours. The fear of death and the even greater fear of the empty meaninglessness of life itself is countered by the Risen Christ. He shows us his hands and his side. He makes visible his victory over our death and the ways of death which we chose in our will to nothingness. The meaning of death is changed and we have only to will what we have been given to see in the witness of the Resurrection. We can only do it by the same means as it been accomplished – by grace.

The Resurrection sets us in motion to God and to one another. It makes life worth living to know that we have an end in God and that his life in us is the measure and the truth of our own lives and our freedom. We can only live for one another when we live to God. It is, literally and radically, new life as the epistle reading from James reminds us: “of his own will he brought us to birth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of all his creation”.

The Resurrection is new birth, new birth in us, dying to ourselves and living for God and for one another. Without that we are dead in ourselves, closed up in the tombs of our souls, paralysed in our fears and unable to reach out in care and concern for one another.

Our morality becomes an empty and deadly morality for “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” without this deeper and religious sense of identity. Throughout the Sundays in Eastertide, Jesus is at pains to counter our fearfulness by preparing the disciples for the fuller meaning of the Resurrection. His going from us is the condition of his being with us. He is preparing them for the radical truth of his Resurrection. It is this. He is going to the Father.

“Because I go to the Father” is the recurring refrain of the Easter season. Everything is gathered into the motions of the Son’s love for the Father in the Holy Spirit. The whole life of the Son, eternally and incarnate, we might say, is toward the Father. By virtue of his Death and Resurrection, we are drawn into the motions of that perfect love. The Comforter is the Holy Spirit, the bond of love of the Father and the Son bestowed upon us by the promises of the Father and the Son. All the comings and goings of our lives find their place and meaning in the comings and goings of the Son to the Father through the Holy Spirit.

This is the essential paradox. The comings and goings of God as Word and Son and Spirit reveal the eternal truth of God as omnipresent and as fully and purely active. The comings and goings are but metaphors for the radical meaning of the truth of God who, by definition, is always present and always everywhere. As John Donne says in his poem Annunciation, “Salvation to all that will is nigh,” meaning that our wholeness, our completeness, is there for all who want it, all as everyone, and then in the next line, Donne says “that all, which always is all everywhere,” all as God. The poem goes on to explore the mystery of the Incarnation through the Annunciation to Mary. The images open us out to the radical meaning of God with us because God is all, always and everywhere.

This challenges our world and us. The world, today’s Gospel tells us, is “reproved” or convicted of “sin” – that is to say, for acting as if there is no God. Such is our worldliness, “because ye believe not on me”. The world is “reproved” or convicted of “righteousness,” meaning that what is right and true is not to be found simply in us, in human ambitions and desires but only in the spiritual relation and identity of the Father and the Son, “because I go to the Father,” as Jesus says. The world is “reproved” or convicted of “judgment,” because all that stands against God and his will must be shown to be ultimately empty and futile, “because the prince of this world is judged”.

“The Spirit of truth”, Jesus says, “will guide you into all truth”. There is truth and we are to walk in its paths, pressing on and persevering through the tumults and tempests of our contemporary dystopias in service and care for one another. We only live when we live for God and for one another.

The Risen Christ is the counter to all our fears. He is in our midst . He would not, as he says, “leave [us] comfortless”. He would not leave us empty but filled, filled with his love. The love that sets us in motion in lives of service and sacrifice is the love of the Father for the Son in the bond of the Holy Spirit, the love that is Resurrection and Life. Christ has entered into the depths of our humanity in all its sorry array of suffering and death to bring us into the fullness of his joy and life. Such is his Death and Resurrection for us. It is the ultimate counter to all our fearfulness.

“Because I go to the Father”

Fr. David Curry
Easter IV, 2019

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