The Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

John 14:23-29

What a great shock it would be to any one of us to have someone who is part of our daily life–someone we know and love–tell us they are leaving. And this can happen anytime, to anyone, because all of life is filled with a series of partings, of saying goodbye to people and places and things that have grown familiar and dear to us.

There are times when a parting from something or someplace can be an exciting change, going off to college, a new job, a new home, the beginning of a new opportunity, any change that can add a little zest to life; but there are other times (maybe the same times) when it is a very difficult matter—hurtful—when the change involves loss, parting from someone we love, someone we have grown used to seeing, or being with every day.

Then we can be filled with anxiety, sadness, perhaps even fear, and the questions start to come: “Where are you going?” Why are you going? When will you be back? ” And human nature being what it is, self-concern comes into play: “What’s going to happen to me, to us? How are we going to manage without you?”

Even when we have the assurance that the loved one will return doesn’t bring much comfort, although there may be solace if we’re told that someone will be coming to stay with us and help us during the loved one’s absence. To know that there will be someone there for us is a comfort.

Yet, when the realization sets in, when the beloved parent or partner or friend has gone, we really are, in a sense, on our own. Because no one can take that person’s place, immediately at least, and (seemingly for ever).

In the future we will have to act for ourselves; we are the ones responsible for keeping things together, for keeping it all going, doing the work that has to be done.

That’s the way it must have felt and sounded to the disciples on that night when they shared a final meal with Jesus. What was happening (supper together) was probably a fairly routine occurrence for the men. They must have eaten together and enjoyed an evening of conversation and companionship almost daily. There must have been a lot of fun and laughter and love shared between these friends, this teacher and his followers, at the end of the day when the sun had gone down, and the people had gone away, and the pressures and troubles and stressors of the day had ceased to close in around them.

But this time, it was different. It was the night before the Feast of the Passover, and the Teacher was preoccupied and reflective.

During the meal, Jesus left the table. And taking off his outer clothes, he wrapped a towel around his waist, filled a bowl with water, and washed and wiped dry his disciples feet. Yeah . . .this meal was different. This evening was different from all the others. It was not a happy, pleasant time. But it was an essential day in the life of those friends and followers of Jesus, for it would set the tone for what Jesus expected of those who would take his place in the world after he was gone. Jesus’ act would be the example that he would set for all his disciples – from then until today – to follow:

That they would love and serve one another in the same incredible, unconditional, indiscriminate way that Christ loved them. That if their Teacher and Lord could be a servant to them, then they also could and should be servants of one another.

After he had finished washing their feet, Jesus sat back down at the table and told them in words the significance of what they had just experienced. He told them he was going away from them; that they couldn’t come with him now, but they could follow him later. And he gave them a new commandment: to love one another, even as he had loved them. And He promised to send someone to comfort them when he was gone. And the questions from the pained, confused, bewildered, broken-hearted disciples began to tumble out:
Why? When? Where? How? Who?

We who have read the gospel accounts, who have heard and been taught the gospel stories and know of the events that followed that fateful last supper, need to remember that those sitting there with Jesus that night had no idea, really, of what lay ahead. (Maybe they should have, but they didn’t.) So, no wonder the questions came thick and fast.

And Jesus’ answers must have raised even more questions. What did he mean when he said, “I’m leaving, but I’ll make my home with you”? ; “I’m going away, but I am coming to you”?

There must have been answers that none of them understood, until long after their Master’s death and resurrection and ascension, when they looked back at the awful and awesome events that took place, and Jesus’ words and their meaning became clearer for them.

The teachings and experiences that Jesus left with his disciples – the words spoken and the actions of that night –are as true and apply to us as much today as they did to his disciples in that time. If anyone loves Jesus and keeps his words and follows his acts, then God, who loves them, will come and make a home in them.

The disciples had so much to take in that night, so much to absorb and try to remember, even though they didn’t understand it, completely. They must have been troubled and afraid of what lay ahead. Jesus knew and understood that. And with great sensitivity and love, he not only tried to comfort his followers and friends, but also to strengthen and encourage them.

He was telling them these things, he said, while he was still with them, so they would know and remember when he was gone. Then God the Father would send the Holy Spirit to comfort them, and to teach them, and to remind them of all that Jesus had said to them. And, with great love and compassion, Jesus told them not to have troubled hearts, and he gave them his peace. His peace. My peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you.

We are told that the peace of God passes all understanding, and God’s peace certainly must have been beyond the understanding of the disciples, but we can believe that they must have lived out that peace in the days and years that followed.

As the disciples went into the world to tell the good news of the redeeming love of Christ and to do the good works that he had taught them to do, their hearts and minds must have been filled with the knowledge and love of God, and with his peace.

As Jesus had promised, God sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples to comfort and to teach them, but he also left them with the personal responsibility for telling the good news of Christ and for showing the love of God to all peoples. They were the hands and feet of Jesus – the body of Christ – to do his work in the world.

And after them, the responsibility for Christ’s ministry was passed on to the church they began—to all that holy communion of faithful people who have been baptized into Christ, and who acknowledge him as Lord.

And today, we are the hands and feet of Christ. We have that responsibility for telling the good news and showing the love of God in Christ to the world and to all people.

In a world that is at war with itself most of the time, we, too, can know and live more deeply the peace of God as we learn to see with the eyes of Christ, speak with the voice of Christ, act with the mind of Christ, and love with the heart of Christ. And, if we will, the Holy Spirit will enable and empower us, and God will dwell in us and make our hearts his home.

Alleluia! As we go into the world to do the work of Christ, Alleluia! And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of the Lord; and may God, The Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always. Alleluia. Amen.