Peace the world cannot give

Easter 6  – 2013

John 14:23-29

Marian Free 

In the name of God in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

We prepare for all kinds of things in life: weddings, holidays, the birth of a child, moving house, entertaining and so in. In many instances we don’t have to start from scratch. Instructions abound. One can download detailed wedding plans and buy any number of books on child-birth and child-raising. Some recipe books will even give you a helpful timetable so that you don’t have to be overwhelmed when catering for a big event. As a result, I suspect that most of us are not too bad at planning for the expected and preparing for something that we have chosen to do or that we expect to be enjoyable. On the other hand, most of us are not so good at planning for disasters or for the unexpected. Floods and earthquakes often find us rushing to the shops for such basics as water and batteries for our radios (that is if we have been sufficiently prepared to have battery operated radios).

Preparing ourselves and those whom we love for our eventual death is something that some of us find easy and some of us do not. There exists a kind of superstition that suggests that even writing a will or planning a funeral might in some way be an invitation or  encouragement for death to overtake us. Some people don’t like to talk about death because they find it distressing, or because those with whom they want to share their thoughts cannot bear to discuss the possibility of their absence. This can leave family and friends unprepared both for the reality of loss and for the responsibility of continuing life without their family member or friend.

Old Testament figures had no such scruples. It was not uncommon for a father, before his death to give each of his sons a blessing. At the conclusion of Genesis for example, Jacob blesses each of his twelve sons and through that blessing indicates the future he sees for each of them. He has given instructions about his burial and can leave this life confident both that he has left nothing undone and also that his children can move forward with their lives after he has gone, equipped in some way for what lies ahead. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses does something similar. He reminds the Israelites of their history and of their covenant with God and gives them instructions on how to live in the promised land. Moses himself will not lead them into Canaan, but he prepares the people as best he can for a future without his leadership

This practice of a Farewell speech is well-attested in ancient and first century writings which means it is no surprise that John uses it as a template for Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. Our Gospel reading today is a small part of that speech which, in John’s gospel, replaces an account of the institution of the Eucharist and extends from the fourteenth to the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel.

Jesus knows that he is “going away” and that his death will mean that his disciples will be left leaderless and without direction. They still do not fully understand who he is or what he is about. Without Jesus to guide and teach them there is every possibility that they will return to what they were doing before – as indeed they do – if briefly

On this, his last night with them, Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for his departure. He does this in a number of ways. He begins by telling them that he is going away and that he is going to the Father. Then he assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them and that he will come back for them. The disciples’ distress at his going can be tempered by the knowledge that they will be together again. Thirdly, he promises to send the disciples the Holy Spirit. This means that even in his absence, they will not be alone – the Holy Spirit will be with them. What is more, the Holy Spirit will continue Jesus’ teaching because there are things that they need to know, but are not yet ready to hear. The Spirit will guide them in the truth and testify on their behalf. There is no reason for the disciples to be concerned about their ignorance or failure to understand what Jesus has taught them. It is in fact to their advantage that Jesus goes away, for only if Jesus goes away will the Holy Spirit be able to come and to empower them with the truth.

Jesus not only prepares the disciples for his imminent departure, he also tries to give them some guidance for their life together once he has gone. This includes instructing them how to be a community in his name, providing an insight into what the future might hold for them, and giving them some tools for living in the world without him. Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment – to love one another. He hopes that their community will be recognisable to others by virtue of this love. He encourages the disciples and builds their confidence by telling them that not only will they continue his work but that they will do greater works than he himself has done. Aware of the hostility that he is about to experience Jesus also warns the disciples that those who have rejected him might also reject them. Finally he prays for them, asking for God’s protection for them and for those who will believe as a consequence of their work.

By preparing the disciples for his departure, Jesus gives them hope for the future, a task to complete, courage to face the difficulties that might lie ahead and the assurance that they will never be alone.

Words that are centuries old, continue to challenge and reassure us long after Jesus’ death. Thanks to Jesus’ farewell speech, we know that we are not alone. We are challenged to be a community that loves each other. We depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth and we understand that our faith in Jesus might lead to hostility from others. There is no need for us to be afraid in the present or worried about the future because we know that Jesus prayed for us and that he has a place prepared for us. This is Jesus’ gift – a gift for every age – a peace that the world cannot give, the assurance that, whatever storms surround us, we are safe and secure in God’s love, supported by the Holy Spirit and awaited by none other than Jesus Christ himself.

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