In these final weeks of Easter as we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, the Gospel readings for Sundays and weekdays are taken almost entirely from Jesus' farewell discourse at the Last Supper (John 13-17). Jesus is saying a very unique goodbye. He is leaving his beloved band of followers, but promises to be with them in the future in a new way. He's not just saying, "Cheer up, things won't be so bad." Actually things are going to get quite bad for him and them. But he is assuring them that the coming of the Holy Spirit will keep their relationship alive because the Spirit will be the bond that holds them together in love with him and his Father.
Jesus says, "Whoever loves me will keep my word." This love is not an emotional high that might pass away under stress or with time. Instead it is a strong determination to take Jesus' teachings to heart and to live by them. Keeping the words Jesus taught is a sign of our understanding of the Gospel message. We have heard the gospel and we have a sense what he expects of us.
But try forgiving an enemy, turning the other cheek, feeding the hungry, confronting little and big injustices, etc. Not just once, but over and over. These are things that, left to our own resources, are impossible to do. So as he speaks to his friends for the last time, Jesus is making sure he leaves them - and us - what we need to fulfill his teachings and experience his new life deep within ourselves and in the community. He has looked ahead to our well being and has made sure that we will always have what it takes to be a Christian community in an ever-changing world.
He promises to send The Spirit. And it is the Spirit who will feed and guide the community who will gift the community with empowerment and direction.
Even more extraordinary is that immediately after Jesus promises his disciples the Spirit, he says that he is leaving them peace. The early church is to be a Spirit-animated community working to heal divisions and settle disagreements among its members and to continue Jesus' work of peace making in the world. If the very community members that profess faith in the Prince of Peace are not reconciled to one another, what good would it do to go out to the world with Christ's message of peace? The Spirit's coming will bring transformation and help Jesus' gift of peace to grow within the community.
We know the kind of peace we need these days and it is a peace only The Spirit can confer. We need wise leaders who can bring God's peace despite the failures at peacemaking we are encountering in the world. We need the Spirit to bring healing to our troubled and wounded Church. We need a peace-rendering Spirit to draw together our parishes that are divided by arguments large and small. We need a Spirit that will renew our conviction that the Lord is indeed the Prince of Peace so that we can bring his peace into our families, schools and workplaces. We also need the Spirit's vision to appreciate the peacemaker and non-violent folks in our midst whose voices and actions are often ridiculed as being naive or ignored because their ways seem "impractical in our modern world."
If we can trust in the Spirit's presence with us now, then we will have peace in whatever turmoil we or the church face.
The message of Jesus started out as a quite simple one: Love God and love each other. Since then, and for some strange reason, we seem to have felt the need to refine, redefine and wrap this message with our own theological concepts of what He was talking about.
But the message remains, and the challenge continues before us. If the gospels have taught us anything they have assured us the the Spirit will be with us always, helping us to continue Jesus' work in the here and now.
The Lord has sent His Spirit to help us move beyond our human limitations. The Spirit moves us to go beyond ourselves as we experience the mystery of His love in our lives. The Spirit emboldens us to delve deep into ourselves as we contemplate the mystery of who we are and to move toward others as we accept the challenge of incarnating God's presence in this world just as He did.