And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. (Ephesians v. 2)
In Eastertide we walk with Jesus in two ways. In one way, we walk back through our memories to the historical facts of Jesus life. We try to remember what Jesus said and did, how the Apostles responded to Him, and what was accomplished once long ago in time and space for the purposes of man’s future salvation. We shall remember also, I hope, that the point of our memory's exercise is for history to open with promised power onto the horizon of heavenly desire. The earthly life and witness of Jesus Christ is offered to us as the means by which we can move from history into eternity. He invites us to become one with Him, members of His Body –the Church, so that we who live in the ephemeral and passing nature of time and space might be taken up into the Kingdom of God. Christ tells us today that, It is expedient that I go away. (St. John xvi. 7). He must go away in one way so that He might come to us in another and thus ensure our translation to Heaven.
So Eastertide is all about looking back and looking forward. We must walk as the Apostles walked looking backward on the Parables and Miracles, and yet walking forward in the hope offered by His Resurrection. If we look back on the history of His life, we begin to see who and what He was all about. His final departure from this world in the flesh can make sense only if we see what He intends to do through us now for the future. If we look back, we begin to see that His whole life seems to have been a history of coming and going. He came down from Heaven. He came to teach and preach to His Apostles through parables. He came to bring Divine power to men through wonders and miracles. Yet, He was always going from them also. He left His Mother and Step-Father to go back to the Temple in Jerusalem. He had gone away from His Apostles to fear for their lives in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee. He seemed to have gone away when Lazarus had died. He had gone away, in the end, to become His Father’s Sacrificial Lamb on the Tree of Calvary. And yet, in all of His coming and going He made some deep impression upon the souls of His followers, the seal and imprint of a Love that though going away in one way would come again with power in the hearts and souls of his faithful friends.
In today’s Gospel, we look back to the time when Jesus spoke to His friends explicitly about His coming and going. I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away. (St. John vi. 7) The Apostles did not grasp His meaning. Their ignorance was spawned from earthly expectations and human hopes. They were saddened because Jesus said that He would have to go away. They wanted Him to remain in the flesh forever. Peter, at one point, enjoying the mystical Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount, had wanted to make booths to preserve and mummify the glorified Christ with Elijah and Moses. Mary Magdalene wanted to embrace and cling to the Risen Christ. The Apostles had hoped that the Resurrected Christ might never leave them. What none of them understood was that Jesus came so that they could find lasting friendship with the Father through Him in Spirit and in Truth.
But the Apostles had been motivated by an urge for immature fleshly reassurance. Rather than being moved by the God that informed Jesus, they wanted the Christ who had come to them never to go away, treating Him like a kind-of idol. They wanted Him to remain with them as the one who would secure and shield them from all spiritual danger. But they had it all wrong. Like all of us, they remained stubbornly attached to the ephemeral nature of things rather than the permanent essence of the spiritual good. So, they were not ready for Christ to come alive in them in a more lasting sure and spiritual way.
But Christ’s coming and going are part and parcel of a patient process that will in the end yield fruit in the hearts of those who believe. In the days of His Resurrection the Apostles were being led through fear to wonder, through wonder to faith, and through faith to worship. (The Resurrection of Christ, p. 38) St. James tells us that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (St. James i. 17) The good and perfect gift that is coming down from the Father of Lights is Jesus Christ Himself. That divine gift that was made flesh and dwelt among us (John i. 14) is coming to reveal the Father’s will to all men. His coming in Resurrection reveals victory over sin, death, and Satan. His coming and then going from them in Ascension reveals true reconciliation with the Father that is only just beginning. Christ comes and Christ goes. He will come once again in Pentecostal fire as His Spirit molds and shapes His friends into members of the new Body that He is making. Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures. (St. James i. 18) God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship [Him] in spirit and in truth. (St. John iv. 24)
So how do we allow this to happen? We must discover the Resurrection faith that stirred the Apostles. St. James speaks for all when he writes: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls. (St. James i. 19, 20) In other words, in all humility of heart we are called to receive…the engrafted Word of God, Jesus Christ, who desires to come into us to save our souls. Jesus says, If I go away, I will send the Comforter unto you. (Ibid, 7) Christ goes away from us so that He might come to us through the Holy Ghost. Through the Holy Ghost, Christ the Word will come to us to be implanted in our souls. Through the same Spirit He will make us partakers of His Resurrection.
But to allow Christ to come to us in such a way that His Spirit will make us true members of His Resurrected Body is no easy affair. Think about the coming and going of so many in the Church. Think about how many people come to Church to go through the motions. Their coming and going seems to bear no witness to the God’s coming and going in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit at all! They come to church for fellowship and perhaps a little bit of religion. They go back into the world not much better for it. Or there are others whose coming and going resembles St. Peter’s immature relation to Jesus Christ. They are obsessed with mummifying and preserving their Christ by needing to be uplifted at all times by Transfiguration moments. And so their religion is all about the external form, the shell, the husk, or the outside of the spiritual cup in all of its safe pristine purity and respectable religion. Their religion is all form and no substance. They forget that the only brilliant moment in Christ’s life was the Transfiguration, and that the rest of it was occupied in the demon-possessed valley of human sinfulness. (My Utmost: O. Chambers) They forget that Christ’s coming and going was really all about a self-emptying, a laying down His life to do the will of His Father, that was meant to become the pattern and model for those of us who would become His friends.
Christ says today that, When the Spirit is come, He will reprove the world of sin. (John xvi. 8) Christ will come to us again through His Holy Ghost to shed light on the filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness that we are in danger of indulging when we are not receiving with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save [our] souls. (St. James i. 20) The Holy Ghost will come to convict us of our sins. The same Spirit will come to convict the world of righteousness. (John xvi. 10) He will come to show us that Christ’s righteousness has overcome all sin and will overcome ours also if we let Him.Finally, When the Spirit comes, He will convince the world of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John xvi. 11) Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to remind us that Christ has conquered Satan and will come to judge both the quick and the dead. The Holy Ghost comes to establish the Divine order and rule in our hearts. True friendship and communion with Jesus Christ is found when the Spirit, who binds Him to the Father, comes to guide us into all truth. (St. John xvi. 13)
Jesus Christ’s coming and going is of utmost importance for our ultimate destiny. Archbishop Ramsey summarizes neatly what happens when Christ’s coming and going began to rule and sway the hearts of those who are becoming His Apostles and Disciples. Dying to their own self-centeredness, the Christians enter a new life wherein the center is not themselves but the Risen Christ. No longer do they think of Christ only in terms of His existence in history as an isolated figure: for they think of Him as Risen, and Contemporary, and Embracing His people as a very part of His own life. (The Resurrection of Christ, p.94) Christ’s coming and going is all part of His desire to invite us into His Resurrection, here and now, and to embrace us with the love that will transform our lives.
Christ can generate His new life in us only by going from us in the flesh and coming to us again through the Holy Spirit. Do we long to become part of this Divine movement of Heavenly Love? We are just passing through this vale of tears and, in the Spirit of Christ, let us pray,
Love, lift me up upon thy golden wings
From this base world unto thy heavens hight,
Where I may see those admirable things
Which there thou workest by thy soveraine might,
Farre above feeble reach of earthly sight,
That I thereof an heavenly hymne may sing
Unto the God of Love, High Heavens King.
(Hymn of Heavenly Love: Edmund Spenser)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: