April 23, 2008

Sermon at Evening Prayer: John 13.33-36

“Where I am going, you cannot come.” With these words, Jesus shows us that the difference between the risen, glorified body and the mortal, sinful world is so great that the residents of the latter cannot be where the former is. We see other hints of this in Scripture, such as the risen Jesus saying to Mary Magdalene, “Do not cling to Me,” and how even when the disciples recognized Jesus, in some sense He was so different, so “other” as to not be recognized. The place where Jesus is going is a place where corruptible bodies are not admitted. He said this to stir up their excitement—and ours—so that we will desire to be there too. Our hearts are weighed down with the cares of this life, and the desires for possessions and reputation – but our fervent, longing prayer is to be instead, “Come, Lord Jesus” – “for where You are, there do we also wish to be.”

And what is that place like? Holy Scripture does not give us detailed descriptions, such as are found in the blasphemous, impious writings of the Koran. We are simply told that there we are with the LORD. That is enough. For the Lord is love, God is love, and there we will be in a place where we are loved by God and where we likewise love, and have no hate, no animosity, no jealousy or bickering or contention; where in everything we are subordinated to the God who made us out of love and redeemed us out of love.

But, Jesus said, that also is to be the characteristic of His holy Church on earth. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Note how He does not say, “All will know that you are My disciples by doctrine,” or, “by right ceremonies.” Obviously these things are important; we are commanded to hold to the pure, apostolic doctrine, and to show every devotion to the Word and reverence to the Sacraments. But without love, these will be empty and dead – a form of godliness while denying the power thereof. For without love, no one will pay heed to the words. Without love, the pure doctrine becomes pure hypocrisy. St. John Chrysostom said,

Nothing so raises respect in the heathen as virtue, nothing so offends them as vice. And with good reason. When one of them sees the greedy man, the plunderer, exhorting others to do the contrary, when he sees the man who was commanded to love even his enemies, treating his very kindred like brutes, he will say that the words are folly…. When he sees us fond of rule, and slaves to the other passions, he will more firmly remain in his own doctrines, forming no high opinion of us. We, we are the cause of their remaining in their error…. They are hindered by our mode of life. To follow wisdom in talk is easy … but they require the proof by works.

This is what St. James means when he says that we see a man is justified by his works, not by faith. We are justified, of course, only by faith in Christ Jesus – but no one can see that faith, except by what you do. If we say that we have faith, but then are slow to hear, swift to speak, swift to anger, what does it profit us?

We all stand condemned. But the God who loved us in the beginning, and who loved us on the cross, loves us still. He promises to create in us a clean heart, and by the Holy Spirit change our hearts of stone. We rejoice in the resurrection, and in the forgiveness of sins shown thereby. We rejoice in anticipation of entrance into that kingdom of love. In rejoicing, let us tonight pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit that such a kingdom of love might break in on our world, on our parish, on our homes, even now, as He makes and strengthens us in being true disciples of Jesus. And finally, may we eagerly await the Sacrament this Sunday, by which we are strengthened in faith towards God and fervent love towards one another, by the power of love which is in that true Body and Blood of our loving Lord.

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