Here we are at the tail end of Eastertide and on the verge of Pentecost. A very important event took place this past Thursday… Jesus ascended to heaven. A very important event happens next Sunday, the Holy Spirit comes to us. So here we are in the space between two momentous events; the interregnum if you will between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is the odd period when, it seems, nobody is in charge… We should be considering what kind of trouble we can get into in this unsupervised time.
Of course, the truth is we hardly need to be left unsupervised to get into trouble. Some wag has a variation on the Lord’s prayer which says: “Lead us not into temptation, we can find our own way…”
For today, we are given this relatively dense reading from John. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Got that?…
This address by Jesus is often referred to as “the farewell discourse” but might more correctly be called the farewell discourses of Jesus…
This is not the only farewell discourse in scripture. Such a discourse was, in fact, a fairly common literary convention – and to some extent it still is. Fairwell discourses, such as the discourse Moses gives in the Book of Deuteronomy, have a common structure. They reflect on the history between the speaker and the listeners and conclude with prayer. But in this instance, Jesus deviates from the formula. Jesus reflects not just on his history with the disciples and his pending death, but on his life and work.
In a typical farewell discourse, it is the end of the story. But that is not so in this case. Jesus’ story does not end. We’re still living it.
The passage feels dense because Jesus is sort of multi-tasking, if you will. Jesus is talking with God, Jesus is talking to the disciples, and Jesus is talking to everyone. To God Jesus is saying the time has come to glorify me, meaning Jesus, so that I may glorify you, meaning God. To the world Jesus is saying that the power to save all of the world has been given to the Christ. And to the disciples Jesus is reminding them that they have faith, and that God has given them to Jesus.
If there was doubt about how important this is, Jesus says that all that is his is also God’s. In other words, the disciples belong to God. Or put another way, the disciples are followers not just of Jesus, but of God.
This message is critical at this moment for the disciples. They have always followed the flesh and blood Jesus. They have not known faith without Jesus being in their midst. But Jesus is about to be killed and then, on Ascension Day, Jesus will be gone. These words from Jesus are here to remind them that they were never only disciples of Jesus, but always of God.
Jesus has talked about going away and asking God to send another – the Holy Spirit, but It’s also worth remembering that the Holy Spirit does not arrive until Pentecost… We kind of take the Holy Spirit for granted, but this is a total novelty for the disciples.
A few chapters later in John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Thomas “You have believed in me because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen me and have believed.” We have always known faith without the physical presence of Jesus walking among us. Or have we… I’ll come back to that…
Another part of what makes this reading from John’s Gospel a challenge for me is the use of the word “glorify”. If you go to church a lot, which monks tend to do, you hear the word frequently. In general, we used the word glorify to mean praise and honor. At Christmas we sing hymns that proclaim glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. At Easter that changes to something like All Glory, Laud, and honor to thee, redeemer King. It is a familiar concept. It means we, as humans, celebrate something.
And this is certainly part of the meaning for the word. But when Jesus says to God, glorify me so that I may glorify you, we’re hearing about something well beyond the kind of glory we can give.
Some translations of this passage don’t use “glorify” but use other words like sanctify. The Message translation uses the phrase “Show your bright splendor.” A few translations use the word “clarify”. And in one, several words are used: “Glorify and exalt and honor and magnify” all in place of Glorify.
I suspect the answer is all of the above and more. Glorify is a good word to use, but not good enough. But when we’re talking about God, the truth is no word or words are good enough. God is far beyond our language. Anytime we talk about the glory of God, we’re talking about something way beyond our imagination, let alone our comprehension.
Some of the work I need to do, and perhaps I have company, is to lift my notion of Glory out of the human range and make it much bigger, much more glorious.
For countless ages we have used the image of nobility to help understand God. But the age when we have awe for monarchs has ended. Divine Right Monarchs have been a thing of the past for generations. There are still monarchs in the world, but divine right monarchs are gone. King Charles III certainly made a splendid, one might even say glorious, figure at his coronation, but he is hardly a figure we would use to illustrate God.
While our understanding of God continues to evolve, Jesus, in this farewell discourse, assures us in no uncertain terms, that we are indeed still God’s. We have always been God’s. We will always be God’s.
A few paragraphs back I mentioned that Jesus no longer walks among us… and I said I’d come back to that… And I am a monk of my word…
The first disciples of Jesus had the marvelous privilege of Jesus in full flesh and blood. I find that quite awesome to contemplate. And it makes me jealous…
But Jesus, in that confusing opening to today’s reading is giving us some clues. Jesus and God are one. Jesus doesn’t say it, but we can be pretty certain that God and the Holy Spirit are one. This is a basic belief in Chrisitan Tradition – God is one God in three persons.
But Jesus goes further. Jesus is in us, and we are in Jesus. St Benedict tells us that we are to look for the face of Jesus in the face of every stranger. Jesus tells us that how we treat the least among us is how we treat Jesus – because we belong to Jesus. All of us. We are all part of Jesus. Some years ago, I would have rationalized a bit that this is a mystical statement, not literal. But as my knowledge of God evolves, I become more certain that it is not a mystical observation – that it is meant quite literally. When we look at each other, we literally look at Jesus. When we breathe, we literally breathe the Holy Spirit.
I begin to understand that the disciples, as they prepare for Jesus’ Ascension, are the deprived ones. They don’t yet know the Holy Spirit. They will – after next Sunday…
In a very real sense, we have always lived with Jesus in the flesh. We can’t say Jesus is confined to one body. Jesus is confined to everybody.
The disciples had a hard time recognizing Jesus after the Resurrection. That may be some of our experience as well. We’re looking for the Jesus we expect – and that is just not the Jesus we get. The Jesus we want is not the Jesus we need.
But Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are a loving, patient, and persistent God. And that is good news…