A little while and ye shall not see me; and again a little while
And ye shall see me; because I go to the Father. (St. John xvi. 16)
It may strike you all as a little bit odd that the Epistle and Gospel readings for Eastertide are not taken from all of the historical records of Jesus’ Resurrection. As you know, the old Book of Common Prayer, which we use, follows, for the most part, the ancient Church’s lectionary. And thus we are using readings that were selected by the Fathers of the Church for this season. So we read what they saw as most necessary for the Church’s understanding of Christ’s Resurrection. Thus it would appear that they were not so much interested in rehearsing the historical facts and details of Jesus’ rising from the dead as with what he had taught them about how to follow him to the kingdom. I suppose you might say, then, that they were interested in the spiritual implications of the Resurrection. And so they were right, since Christ himself prayed, prior to his Ascension, that what he had received from the Father might be given to his friends. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. (St. John xvii. 14-17)
So our appointed Easter lections invite us to meditate upon the spiritual ramifications of the Resurrection here and now and to reflect upon the fact that we will be resurrected in Christ in the future. Our end is not in this world but in heaven. And so, with Isaiah, we are reminded that God’s mercy moves towards us not only to heal our earthly human condition, but also to revive the heart and spirit of man, that they might once again reach out in hope towards a final and lasting communion with God.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. (Isaiah 57 15-18)
God lives or dwells in the high and holy place but is not untouched by man’s need for him. Men are called to be humble and contrite as God makes a way for them to be reconciled to him. He revives and brings back to life the spirit of man who has rebelled against him. God is moved to respond to man’s exile because man’s predicament and sadness signal a division and separation which his love cannot tolerate. He cannot allow man’s spirit to languish, mourn, or fail. His love is life, and should man’s spirit flicker, fade, or die, God’s neglect would condemn man to a meaningless and futile existence. But God has made man to live, to have life, to have it [indeed] more abundantly (St. John x. 10). To be sure, man has rebelled against God, and so God’s love is hidden under the veil of anger and wrath. God’s loving nature is hidden and concealed as men pursue the devices and desires of their own hearts. That is, until man discovers the impotence, impermanence, and deficiency that his pursuit of false gods engenders. Then man will come to see that the wickedness that his life has become is like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. (Isaiah lvii. 20) And so God responds tenderly: I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. (Ibid, 18)
God cares always for his people. In the fullness of times he manifests himself to the world in the human life of Jesus Christ. And yet, as we know, it was not until his Resurrection that Christ reveals the truth and meaning of his Father’s desire and intention for man fully. It is only in his Eastertide that Christ begins to disclose and uncover the truth and meaning of his suffering, death, and Resurrection to those who will follow him. In Eastertide his presence is marked most by teaching and illuminating the minds of his Apostles. In it he performs one miracle only – when he commands his friends to cast the net over the right side of their fishing vessel, where they discover, to their profound surprise, a draught of fishes. (St. John xxi. 6) For the forty days of his Resurrection he teaches the Apostles of the spiritual truth and meaning that have informed and moved his every move in time and space. He imparts those principles that will then form the new life that will make them partakers of his Resurrection through his Holy Spirit. He prepares them, in other words, to begin to become his new Mystical Body, which he would mold and shape out of their hearts and souls from his Ascended place at the Father’s right hand.
And yet it is precisely with this comforting truth that the Apostles and we have most trouble. The Apostles had Jesus back from the dead, and did not want to let him go. They (and we!) seem so bogged down and defined by earthly tangibility – what depend upon physically and sensibly. Remember that when Jesus had risen from the dead, Mary Magdalene wanted to hold, embrace, and never let go of Jesus’ Risen body. Remember too that Thomas would not believe unless and until he had placed his hands into Jesus’ wounded hands and side. Remember that the other Apostles did not want Jesus to leave them. They could not extricate or free themselves from his earthly and fleshly presence. And we experience the same problems in our own lives. Most men cannot deal with death and departure. These days men are so afraid of losing their earthly bodies and sensibilities that they fall apart over a common cold, a wrinkle, a pimple, or a cloudy day. They even create mythologies to convince themselves that they were here before, and that they will come back after…perhaps as a duck or a humming bird. And yet Jesus will have none of this nonsense! A little while and ye shall not see me, and again a little while and ye shall see me. (St. John xvi. 16) Christ insists that he must leave his friends in one way that he may come to them in another, though he is not without compassion for their spiritual weakness and frailty. Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice. And ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (Ibid, 20) The Christ whom the Apostles welcome again in Eastertide with great joy must leave them. But why, you ask? Because who and what Christ is, is always what he desires and longs to become in others, as he shares his Father’s Holy Spirit with them. Christ is the Son of God, whose body was broken into and opened up as that alone which can yield the new Resurrected life that reconciles all men to the Father. For men to be Resurrected at the last day, they must begin to born again here and now, from above, as the new sons and daughters of God. A woman, when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is not yet come. But as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. (St. John 16. 21) The truth that defines Christ’s Body begins and ends in heaven. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again I leave the world and go to the Father. (St. John xvi. 5-8, 28) True life comes from and must return to God. Jesus then prays, Keep in thy name those whom thou hast given me that they may be one as we are one…that they may have my joy made full in themselves. (St. John xvii. Xvii. 11-13)
And so with St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles, we must begin to become the children of Christ’s Resurrected desire. Thus, we must learn to become alien residents of this world. Dearly beloved, St. Peter writes, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles.(1 St. Peter 2. 11) Christians, he maintains, are to be defined spiritually by Christ’s truth. We are not to be at home in this world. This is not our end or final resting place. Here we cannot hope to find our deepest fulfillment and happiness. We are strangers and pilgrims just passing through on our way to a better country. Here we have no enduring city; but we seek one to come. (Hebrews xiii. 14) And so we are not to desire or lust after the things of this world, such as material possessions, earthly riches, honor, respect, or even an earthly legacy. For, in point of fact, the pursuit of these things leads not into heaven but to hell. Rather, we must be risen with Christ, [and] seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 1) If we begin to do this, we shall have let go of Christ’s flesh, embrace his Spirit, and become the living members of his Resurrected Body as we continue to approach our eternal homeland.
Darkness and uncertainty, loneliness and spiritual effort are necessary to us, and, taken right, they are the growth of faith, Austin Farrer once wrote when reflecting upon the process of being born again into Christ’s Resurrection. The effort to derive our livelihood and meaning from above is hard stuff! Before we find our deepest union and communion with God through Jesus Christ, we must endure dark nights of the soul and the pain that comes with spiritual new birth. But then, as Romano Guardini reminds us, in Christ, Love breaks open the seal on his heart and Spirit. In communion with Christ’s heart, our own is suddenly able to experience that of which it is incapable alone. Out spirit stretches to measure up to Christ’s, and thereby grasps much that it never could have grasped by itself. (The Lord, p. 424-5) Indeed, then we shall begin to rise up and out of ourselves, moved by the love that Resurrects us from this world, at home with Jesus in the heaven of his Father’s loving embrace, possessing a joy that no man taketh away from us (St. John xvi. 22) – yet still one which we must share if we hope to be saved.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: