Easter 4 – I go away

“It is to your advantage that I go away…if I go, I will send [the Helper] to you.”

During this Easter season we are continuing to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and we are being called to participate in the new life open to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

We might lament that we never experienced on earth the sort of closeness the disciples had when Jesus walked with them, ate with them, and talked freely with them.  While Jesus walked on earth, He could correct Peter from a misstep here, guiding at another time John, giving assurance at another time to Mary Magdalene.

         “But if I depart,” Jesus says, “I will send [the Helper] to you.”

As one preacher put it, “The removal of the visible, bodily presence of God in Christ, his departure through death, resurrection and ascension,” is not tragic for us.  It “would be the beginning of a new inner and spiritual relation to God.”  [Crouse]

Each one of us has received the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, in our hearts at our Baptism.  We in fact are closer to Jesus now, than the disciples were when he was in their midst in the flesh.

Sometimes when we read together the Old Testament lesson in Morning or Evening Prayer during the week, people have said to me – surely that is not the same God that we know in Christ.  And I say, surely it is, but our relation to that God is different than the people could know then.  God had to respond in a more dramatic and outward way, sometimes terrifying them, because it was the only way to wake them up to the danger they were in.  Living with the gift of the Spirit of Christ, it can be hard for us to imagine just how blessed we are with the intimacy we experience daily through the pouring out of the Spirit in our baptism and through faith.

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What is this “new inner and spiritual relation to God”?

Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit being the Spirit of truth [St John 16:5-15]:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

The Spirit brings inward illumination, light to enlighten us inwardly with the truth.

You know that in the scientific world, scientists labour through observation and experiment and through the developing and testing of theories to come up with the most accurate description of the natural world and how things work – they seek the truth about nature around us.  And the better their theories, the more useful they are – their hope is to discover reality as it really is – not just some false idea about it or vague approximation.

The Spirit of God, inspires in us a search for the truth about ourselves about God and reveals to us the truth – think of those seven lamps on the lampstand in the Temple in Jerusalem, a figure of the soul illuminated inwardly in all its beauty.

The Spirit works in us, to help us see ourselves our souls, for who we really are – not some imaginary idea that we project to the world, but to understand ourselves – our abilities, our gifts, the ways that we offend in love, and also to see how we are maturing in the way of love.

And Jesus says the Spirit will do this, will reveal the truth about ourselves as we can bear it.  The Spirit, like a wise parent or teacher, reveals inwardly to us, more fully the truth, as we grow.  The Spirit peals off the layers of self deception as we trust in God’s voice within us.  So we are not afraid of this work of the Spirit, of this new inner relation to God, but we foster it in prayer, in self-reflection, through reading the Word, and in earnest listening for the voice of Truth within us.

The Holy Spirit, God, illuminates us inwardly, even so that we can see what we are thinking.  That might sound strange – but our minds often run on with unhelpful thoughts, and we don’t even realize it – the Spirit will shine and reveal to us our thoughts so that we can put a stop what is unhelpful and turn to something higher.  The Spirit helps us to judge ourselves, that we might grow in holiness.  This is Christ making Himself present to each one of us by His Spirit at all times guiding us.

But when we hear this inward voice, how do we know if it is the Spirit or our own unsteady heart that is speaking?

Jesus says that the Spirit will not speak on his own authority; but whatever he hears he will speak… He will glorify me: for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 

If the voice you hear inwardly is saying something contrary to what Jesus has said in the Gospels or contrary to the character that we know of Jesus from what we read, you can be assured that is not His voice – it is that simple.  The Holy Spirit will not contradict, but will glorify Jesus, make more clear the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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The Spirit also strengthens our wills to overcome temptation.

And that affects how we relate to others – we don’t seek to destroy or to flee from those who are suffering some sort of moral failing – but we bear with them in our midst.  And it is even possible for us to draw near to bring relief by loving them despite their failings and witnessing the way of truth.  We have a new inward strength – and, because the Spirit is at the same time continually revealing our own weaknesses, and our need personally of mercy, it is only natural that we show greater mercy to others.

Because of this new inner and spiritual relation to God in Christ, we know where to search for God when we seem to have lost God.  We don’t go out in the world, but inwardly to discover God.  Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is within you.”  We pray, asking and listening. We read the Bible to remember and to recognize that voice again, speaking to us inwardly.  We meet with other Christians who are indwelt by His Spirit who help us to recognize His voice inwardly.

James says today [St James 1:17-21], that God – brought us to birth by the word of truthand so we are to receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save [our] souls.

And when that inward Voice begins again to be recognized by us, our sorrow is turned into joy, knowing that God has not forsaken us.

In the Epistle reading today, St. James describes God as “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  God is a steady light, shining always from heaven, and God’s Spirit is that uncreated Light, lightening us inwardly.

Do you see why Jesus says, It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.

Jesus is making a veiled reference to His passion and death on the Cross.  Remember this was only hours before he was nailed to the Cross.  He can send the Holy Spirit to His disciples and to us because of His death and resurrection.  As we trust in His offering, we are reconciled with God and His Spirit infills us.

In the Holy Communion we present Christ’s death until He comes again.  Jesus will make us ready through repentance and faith to receive today with meekness the engrafted word from above. 

This morning let us put away sorrow, and let us rejoice as we are strengthened in and through this new inward and spiritual relation to God in Jesus Christ.  Amen.