Sixth Sunday of Easter
I came to a very important realization when my father passed away. No matter how much you prepare yourself for someone’s death, you can never prepare enough. Grief has a way of disabling all your defenses. It takes months and sometimes years to come to terms with the absence of those you love. Perhaps, this is the best way for me to describe the sentiments behind today’s gospel reading. Jesus was no more physically among the disciples and the early church. After his resurrection, he appeared a few times to his disciples, but now even that had ceased. The early Christian community not only yearned for Christ’s presence, but struggled to find new ways to experience his presence.
Today’s gospel gives the early church ways in which they could experience Christ’s presence even as they missed his physical presence. It is in these very ways in which Christ is also present to us.
- The Word. Jesus says to us in today’s gospel, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23). Let me reflect on these words in a very human and practical way. Somedays, lying exhausted on my couch after a long day’s work, I feel overcome with grief. I miss my father. I miss hearing his voice over the phone. I will miss him when I visit home next week. During these times, I talk to him, and often repeat his words. I say the words he said to me. I say them over and over again. And in the strangest way, I feel his closeness. It is as if dad is with me through his words. This is the very sense in which Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” On the contrary, Jesus says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” The key here is “Whoever loves me….” If we love Christ, we will keep his word. And when we keep his word, he becomes present in our midst. Today, we are not invited to merely read Christ’s words. Today, we are invited to “keep” God’s word, because when we “keep” God’s word, we bring Christ to life in the world.
- The Love. There second way in which Christ is present in our midst – in living his love. Jesus primary mission on earth was to show us the Father’s love. However, not only did Jesus show us the Father’s love, but he lived the Father’s love. By living the Father’s love, Jesus made the Father present to the world. Then Jesus commanded his disciples to love with that same love. Last week we heard Jesus say, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). When we live Christ’s love, we make Christ present in the world in the same way that Christ made the Father present to the world. This makes our mission very Christ-like. I want to argue that there is no other way in which Christ is more powerfully present, than in the love that we bring to the world. Yes, Christ is present to us in the word. Yes, Christ is present to us in the Eucharist. Yes, Christ is present to us in the sacrament. But if that presence does not translate into real love for people, then, we become counter witnesses. Just as Jesus’ life bore witness to the Father’s love, only our love for one another can bear witness to Christ’s presence.
- The Advocate. The third way in which Christ is present is the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (Jn 14:26). Who is this Advocate? Who is this Holy Spirit? How do we understand Jesus’ words? As far as Jesus is concerned, the Advocate is nothing less than the Father’s love. God is most present to us as love. Every experience we have of God’s love is an experience of the Advocate. The Advocate is the personification of the Father’s love. Jesus promises that the Father will send us the Spirit afresh. As Pentecost approaches, let us pray for a fresh outpouring of the Father’s love upon us and upon the world. You and I know that today we need it more than ever.
Although, not part of today’s gospel, we Catholics know that Christ is most tangibly present in the Eucharist. As we receive Christ in the bread and wine, let us also keep his word and live in his love. In this way, may we make Christ present in the world. Amen.
- Satish Joseph