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7th Sunday of Easter, Yr C, St Mark’s, 20.5.07/2.05.2013
Acts 16.16-34: Paul & Silas imprisoned; earthquake, jailer & household baptized
Rev 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-end: A & O, I am coming to repay; wash robes, water of life
Jn 17.20-end:  Fr, love you loved me may be in them & I in them.

Risen, ascended Lord, as we rejoice at your triumph, fill your Church on earth with power and compassion, that all who are estranged by sin may find forgiveness and know your peace, to the glory of God the Father. 1444 

(In our pilgrimage we go with Jesus to the Father.) 

           I expect all of us, young and old, have had bad days, even bad patches, sometimes of long duration.  Think for a moment, what has helped us to keep going?   How do you keep your hopes up when the going gets rough and the future looks bleak?  With this question in mind, let’s look at our Eastertide scriptures.

          The lectionary readings from the Second Sunday of Easter to today have invariably been taken from the Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Revelation and St John’s Gospel. 

          Our readings from Acts have been following the movement of the Good News outward from Jerusalem to the Gentiles just as we have been moving toward the feast of Pentecost, the great missionary feast.  And when one reads the whole of Acts, it appears that Luke has been arguing that, no matter what happens, whether good or bad, nothing can stop the Holy Spirit, not even the Church.  We can say that this is Luke’s answer to our question of how do you keep going.

          The Book of Revelation comes from a period of persecution when it was felt that all hell was about to break loose, so to speak.  But in the midst of all this there are glimpses of the glory and worship of the heavenly courts, and it is from these passages that our readings have been carefully chosen. A very fine scholar named George Caird wrote a commentary on the book where he demonstrated that in the writing there is a continual interplay between the heavenly courts coming down to the earth and the reader being raised up to them – sort of like those lifts on the outside of modern buildings where you can see one lift going up and another one coming down at the same time.  In other words, in Revelation we are simultaneously in the heavenly courts - and in the midst of all hell breaking loose, with the ultimate victory assured even as we are in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.  This is the answer of an exiled Christian under persecution at the end of the first century AD.

          And where does that leave us?

          We have had Easter Day, last Thursday was the Ascension, and next Sunday is Pentecost. In a sense we may say that at Easter we celebrated a Raising, at the Ascension we celebrated a Going, and at Pentecost we shall celebrate both a Coming and an Abiding. 

          Easter celebrates a Raising: the Father’s raising of Jesus from the dead and a raising of us into new life when we were baptized into Christ's death.

          Ascension celebrates a going of Jesus to the Father and an invitation and opportunity for us to go with him as we grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ.   

And Pentecost will celebrate the Coming and Abiding of the Holy Spirit through whom we know Christ's coming and abiding in and with us.

          It is the essence of that abiding that is spelled out in the last verse of today's reading from John, when Jesus, after the supper and before the cross, prays to the Father for his disciples.  He says, "I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

Earlier Jesus is presented as saying: "I am going to the Father".  Then, after saying that the disciples will be scattered he says, "Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me."

          "I am going to the Father" and at the same time, "The Father is with me."

          So there is a going and an abiding, just as we are called to follow Jesus and to be with him.

It is the Christian experience, as expressed by St John’s Gospel, that the arriving lies in the going.  That is, it is as we follow after Jesus in the way that leads to the Father so we know both Jesus and the Father with us already.  And this abiding is an abiding in love, the Father's love as made perfectly known in Jesus.

          St John says of Jesus, at the beginning of chapter 13, "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end", eis telos – a Greek idiom that means ‘completely’.  And in John's Gospel the last word from the cross is "It has been completed" - the loving of his own.  And the new commandment that Jesus gives his disciples - the command of Maundy Thursday, is "Love one another as I have loved you".

So the abiding is an abiding in love, and the going is a going in love.  And it is the abiding that makes possible the going, for, even in purely human terms, it is only as we are loved that we learn to love and are empowered to love.

          New-born babies are self-centred.  Unless they are loved, they never learn to love.  As the first letter of John expresses it: "We love because He first loved us."  This letter, which is from the same community as the 4th Gospel, goes on to say, "Perfect love casts out fear."  That is, it is love, and love alone, that can free us from all our hang-ups - that can free us from concern for my rights, my perks, my justice, even my good name; that frees us from the need to look out for Number One, namely, myself.

          In short, it is love that frees us to love - which means to give ourselves for others for their welfare and well-being without counting the cost.  As St Paul expresses it in his letter to the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer my ego that lives, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

And as Jesus' going to the Father in the way of love has been a going in the way of the cross, so as we go in him who is for us The Way, the Truth and the Life, so our going as well is a going in the way of the cross.  It is a dying to ourselves and all our pretensions and a living in the self-same total trust in the Father that we have seen in Christ.

St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians speaks of the new humanity that God has opened up in raising Christ from the dead.  And in the opening chapters of that letter Paul speaks of Christ Crucified as being the Wisdom of God and the Power of God - that is, as being both God's will and God's way, both what he wants and how he brings it about.  Paul tells the Corinthians that he determined to know nothing among them save Christ and him crucified.  And when Paul writes chapter 13, the great hymn of love, he is actually spelling out what Christ crucified means, namely, unbounded, unbreakable love.

All four of our Gospels emphasize that Jesus reigns as king precisely from the cross.  So, if we are to participate in his reign, then it will be as, and only as, we go with him, and in him, as members of his Body, in the way that he goes to the Father, in the Way of the Cross.  And we shall do this day by day just as Jesus has done it, not in our own strength, but in the strength of the Father's love, for "the Father loves you himself".

It is the reign of God's love in our hearts, strengthened and renewed at the Lord's Table, as we feed on him who gave his life for us and for all - it is this reign of love that frees us to die to ourselves that we may live for others - it is this love that casts out our fears -

          We are freed from the fear of failure: because we are so deeply loved, we don't have to succeed; therefore we are freed to try even when we may fail.

          We are freed from the fear of rejection: because we are the beloved we can reach out to those in need even if they reject us.

          We, the beloved, the reconciled, are given, in St Paul 's words, the ministry of reconciliation in him who came, not to be served, but to serve.

In our final hymn we sing once more of Christ as our king, and this is how we reign with him, this is how he abides in us, and this is how we go with him to the Father.