Sermon for 6th Easter (Year C) (The Rev. Steve Sturgeon)

Updated: Jun 3


Alleluia. Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!


One of the lectionary commentaries I read this week regarding today’s gospel text

raised this question for the sixth Sunday of Easter season: How does a congregation

maintain the energy and focus of Easter long after the lilies are gone? N.T. Wright, a

New Testament scholar and the former Anglican bishop of the diocese of Durham,

England, has written and spoken about this topic numerous times. Wright argues that the

modern Church does a miserable job of celebrating the Easter Season. He says that we do

a great job with Lent (feeling bad about ourselves) followed by the pageantry of Holy

Week culminating in Easter Sunday, and then the next day we go back to our ordinary

lives. We treat Easter as a one-day happy ending to forty days of fasting and gloom.

Wright argues that the entire Easter season should be celebrated extravagantly. Whatever

time, energy, or effort we put into celebrating Christmas, we should do ten times as much

for Easter. Wright’s own contribution to this festive season was to suggest that everyone

drink champagne for breakfast for the duration of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, a

tradition which I am surprised has not caught on in the Episcopal Church. (N.T. Wright,

Surprised by Hope, p. 255–257; Kate Moorehead, Resurrecting Easter, p. 50.)


This theme of ‘carrying on’ with triumphant joy and excitement also occurs in our

Bible readings. Throughout the season of Easter our gospel texts each year tends to draw

heavily upon the Gospel according to John, and particularly the portion known as ‘the

farewell discourse,’ which consists of Jesus’ lengthy monologue to his disciples during

the Last Supper in which he explained to them what was about to occur, both his death

and afterwards. Much of it, like today’s reading, seeks to give assurance to the disciples

that they will not be abandoned when Christ dies, and provides instruction to them about

how they will continue as a community of believers. The advice Jesus gave to his

disciples then is still relevant and applicable to us today.


I want to begin with verses twenty-three and twenty-four, which make up the first

paragraph of the reading. These verses tell us two things: First, we cannot separate our

love of Jesus from keeping his commandments; the two are intertwined. Second, even

after Jesus’ death and departure, God’s abiding and indwelling presence will continue

with those who love him. This passage answers the question: Can the disciples still love

Jesus when he is gone? The answer is yes, but not by clinging to his memory nor by

retreating into their private experience of him. Rather they can continue to love Jesus by

doing his works and keeping his commandments, for when they do these things they will

once again experience his love. (Gail R. O’Day, “Commentary and Reflections on the Gospel of John,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, p. 746.)


In the same way that Jesus lived out God’s love for him through following God’s

commandments, so too the disciples can live out Jesus’ love for them by following his

commandments. As one commentator notes, “When the disciples live in love [for one

another], and thereby keep Jesus’ word, they experience the love of God, and it is through

that love that they experience the indwelling of God and Jesus.” If the disciples live out

this love then Jesus will continue to live not only in them, but also in future generations.

We too must also determine what it means to be in relationship with Jesus in his absence.

This passage shows that any generation will only enter into relationship with Christ when

it takes on and lives out the love of the Incarnation. (Ibid., p. 749-750.)


In the next paragraph Jesus tells his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I

give to you.” This is the first mention of peace in John’s gospel. The peace Jesus is

offering is not the sort of peace of which we speak about in the world, one that promises

us security and nonviolence. Rather this is the peace of Christ, which is his love, his life,

his joy and his redemption. This is not a sentimental or carefree peace. Jesus’ offer of

peace speaks to the anxiety, fear, and troubled hearts his disciples had that night at the

Last Supper, and will have in the future. As an antidote, Jesus offers peace—not the

peace of the world but the peace of the presence of God, for “[w]hen God is present,

peace is made manifest.” This is what is at the heart of the Passing of the Peace, which

we do in the middle of our service. During most of the church year the Peace comes right

after the prayer of confession—when we are relieved of our sins and the community is

restored—and is a celebration of God’s love for each of us and all of us. (Ibid., p. 751;

Geoffrey M. St. J. Hoare, “Pastoral Perspective on John 14:23–29,” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2, p. 494.)


In what other ways do these words of comfort that Jesus offered to his disciples at the

Last Supper two thousand years ago speak to his disciples today? Perhaps one way is

through the fact that all of us, at some point and in some manner in our lives, have been

apart from or have lost a loved one. Even a small child can experience fear and sadness

when a parent leaves, even if it is only for a short time. What then does this passage offer

by way of comfort? The assurance that God is still with us, that we will receive guidance

to help us, and comfort to support us. Here is a clear instance when we, as Christians, are

called to be the agents of Christ’s love in a broken world. We are to be the embodiment

and fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made to his disciples. (Ibid., p 492.)


With this great gift, however, comes great responsibility. It can be difficult to know

what to say to someone who has lost a loved one, and our attempts to offer assurance and

comfort can inflict further suffering if we come across as insensitive or dismissive of

someone’s pain. Even with good intentions, statements such as “they are in a better

place,” or “do not focus on your loss,” can come across as uncaring. We need to

remember that as Christians it is still okay to grieve. Jesus himself wept at the grave of

his friend Lazarus. (Ibid.)


Just as Jesus’ words offer comfort to his individual disciples, so too they offer

comfort to the whole church as well. It is very easy, particularly in our current times, to

lapse into cynicism and despair, and to lose a sense of hope. Yet, it is the message of

hope that is at the heart of Christianity. Too often this message is drowned out by the

“debates that threaten to consume the life of the church,” and so, time and again, the Holy

Spirit has to remind us about it. The essence of this message is “that God’s presence will

not be defeated by any distress” and this knowledge can give the church (all of us

together) a “renewed strength and hope to live as the people of God.” Jesus’ words offer

his disciples, then and now, “the possibility of a world in which hope overcomes despair,

God’s presence overcomes [our] anxiety…and the present holds…the seeds of a fresh

future shaped by love, not fear.” (O’Day, p. 754.)


I want to close today with an ancient prayer, from the 4 th century Syrian Clementine

liturgy, which speaks about God’s nature and his enfolding love of us as made known

through his Son, and which uses language that echoes the imagery in today’s reading

from Revelation. Let us pray:


O God, you are the unsearchable abyss of peace, the ineffable sea of love, the

fountain of blessings and the bestower of affection, who sends peace to those

who receive it. Open to us this day the sea of your love and water us with

abundant streams from the riches of your grace and the most sweet springs of

your kindness. Make us children of quietness and heirs of peace; enkindle in

us the fire of your love; sow in us your fear; strengthen our weakness by your

power; bind us closely to you and to each other in our firm and indissoluble

bond of unity. (J. Barney Hawkings IV and Ian S. Markham, editors, Words That Listen: A

Literary Companion to the Lectionary, Vol. 1, p. 296.)

Amen.

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