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Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter

“Because I go to the Father”

How do we know what is wanted to be known? More to the point, how do we know what God wants us to know? The Easter Season presents us with some remarkable lessons about who we are in Christ. They are the teachings of Christ about the nature of our radical life with God and in God without which we have no life. At the heart of that teaching is the Resurrection.

We find our healing and our wholeness in Christ. All of the stories of the Resurrection reveal ourselves in ourselves as the community of the broken hearted. Only in facing our brokenness and recognizing our unknowing can we begin to be taught and come to understand what God seeks for us, namely, our wholeness. It happens in the face of our brokenness and not in spite of it or in denial of it. Only so can we begin to be made whole. The education here concerns the whole person; in short, matters of character.

Sorrow and grief, loss and suffering, dying and death are not denied. They provide the necessary occasion in which our wholeness is proclaimed and realized. This is a recurring feature of the Easter Season. The last three Sundays of the Easter Season present us with Gospel readings from what is sometimes known as “the farewell discourse of Jesus” in John’s Gospel, particularly John 16, in which there is the repeated refrain of the Easter season. It is the phrase “because I go to the Father.” Jesus is the teacher who prepares the disciples here for what is to come in terms of his death and resurrection. He speaks directly about suffering and sorrow and about joy. “Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

What is our sorrow? Our sense of separation from Christ: “a little while and ye shall not see me; and again a little while and ye shall see me,” Jesus says. This puzzles the disciples and us but reading these passages now in the light of Easter we see exactly what they mean. Sorrow is turned into joy through the triumph of life over death. Jesus uses an image, the image of childbirth, to convey the radical meaning of the Resurrection.

“A woman, when she is in travail, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered, she remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a child is born into the world.” There will be sorrow and suffering “but your sorrow shall be turned to joy.”

The Resurrection is new life, new birth, for which the image of childbirth provides a most convenient analogy. It establishes a kind of likeness and one in which we can better understand Christ’s repeated phrase, “because I go the Father.” Everything is drawn into the fundamental relationship of the Son to the Father.

This idea has been with us in every aspect of the Easter message because it has entirely to do with Christ and who Christ is for us. Anthropomorphic language, the idiom of human speech in the Scriptures, is used analogically to draw us into the life of God who in himself is by definition “without body, parts, passions,” as the first Article of the Thirty-nine Articles puts it, and yet engages our world and our humanity to draw us to himself. That can only happen through the concreteness of the images that belong to human lives, to the realities of our bodies and human sexuality regardless of the questions about how such realities are expressed culturally and socially. The greater reality is the God in whose life we participate now through the sacred humanity of the God/man, Jesus Christ.

God is not the collective reflection of our social and political constructs for that would be to say that God is made in our image rather than our being made in the image of God. The teachings of the Resurrection signal profoundly that the body matters but is to be understood in relation to God and to the forms of our participation in the divine life. Such are the sacraments in the very idea of “an outward and visible sign” that signifies “an inward and spiritual grace.” Such is a radical affirmation of the natural world, of creation. The teachings of the Resurrection signal profoundly that human individuality and therefore human experiences really matter but only as drawn into the life of God. In other words, the Resurrection is the most radical affirmation of the reality of the physical world and the body and of ourselves as selves, as individuals.

We are more not less than our experiences of suffering and sorrow, of dying and death. Through them and in them we learn about our spiritual identity as the children of God, as members of the body of Christ, as the inheritors of the kingdom of God.

It is altogether about our life in and with God through the fundamental orientation of Jesus as the Son and Word of the Father. This is the meaning of this recurring refrain, “because I go to the Father,” the meaning of who Christ is in himself and for us through his Passion and Resurrection. The folly of our linear ways of thinking is that we separate these things from one another and fail to see the deeper interplay of sorrow and joy, of justice and grace. Yet the teaching is there that we might come to understand more and more the radical nature of our life in Christ.

The teachings of the Resurrection speak to our contemporary confusions about ourselves as selves. The autonomous self is really no self. Paradoxically, the more we assert ourselves as selves in whatever form we imagine the more uncertain about ourselves we become and the more divided we become from one another. To discover our uncertainties, our unknowing, our brokenness, is to begin to learn what God wants for us. It cannot be found simply in ourselves. We can unmake ourselves but we cannot make ourselves. We can’t do it.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” grasps this wonderfully, I think, and in ways that speak to our current perplexities. The poem challenges us about what it means to be a self, an individual. “Selves … Crying What I do is me: for that I came.” Are we simply our actions? Our experiences? Are they everything or nothing? How are they, perhaps, something? Hopkins suggests that we are something more than just our actions, more than just our experiences, but only in and through them as grounded in Christ and in Christ’s fundamental orientation to the Father in the Spirit.

“I say more:” he says,“the just man justices.” The just man does justice but that is clearly the justitia dei , the justice of God, and not our self-righteousness. In so doing, he “keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces,” alluding to the greater justice of God which is grace or charity in which our lives find their truth and meaning. That truth and meaning is captured in a lovely phrase that speaks to the orientation of our lives in Christ. The just man, whose doings and goings are really all God’s graces in him, “acts in God’s eyes what in God’s eye he is.” We are to act and be who we are in God’s sight. But how do we know and understand anything about that? What does it mean to “act in God’s eye what in God’s eye [we are]”?

The answer is the Easter message: “Christ.” “For Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the features of men’s faces.” We look to Christ and see Christ, too, in one another, seeking the good of our humanity in the one whose Resurrection is the redemption of our humanity. It is all about our being gathered into the life of God “because I go to the Father.” It is about our life in Christ here and now “to the Father through the features of men’s faces.” There are and will be sorrows, to be sure, but “I will see you again,” Jesus says, “and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”

All “because I go to the Father.”

Fr. David Curry
Easter 3, 2018