When our oldest son Andrew was about three, he loved climbing things. Ladders, trellises, trees. They all beckoned him to clamber up toward the roof or the sky. In the house, we found Andrew mounting our coffee table and leaping off.
Not wanting him to mar the furniture or bump his head, we told him not to do that. Since this made no sense to him, he kept scaling the coffee table and leaping off, only to have us put him in time out for a count of ten. Eventually, he got the point. At least, he got a point.
|Gustav Klimt’s “Apple Tree”|
When he thought I wasn’t looking, Andrew got on the table and jumped off.
Before I could say anything, and without having seen me, he said, “Time out!” He walked to the accustomed corner, counted to ten, returned to the table, and repeated the process a few more times.
That wasn’t quite what we had had in mind.
Sometimes I suspect that Jesus looks at his Church and, with patience and love, shakes his head and thinks, “That wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”
Jesus had said, “Those who love me will keep my word.” (John 14:23)
With all the best intentions, people have taken his words to heart. And gotten them completely wrong.
They assume that Jesus means, “If you love me you will follow the rules I’ve given you.” Sincerely trying to follow Jesus, some people believe that Jesus’ word—his logos—is a moral code. A set of do’s and don’ts.
But let’s do a quick review of Jesus’ teaching in John’s Gospel.
Again and again he says, “I am.” You know, like God speaking to Moses in the burning bush. “I am that I am.” Jesus identifies himself as God incarnate.
As God incarnate, he is Living Water, Bread of Life, Light of the World, and Good Shepherd. In other words, the subject matter of Jesus’ teaching is Jesus’ identity. And Jesus’ identity is Love Incarnate.
Jesus teaches us who he is, so that we will know who we are. We are not just Jesus’ followers. We are Jesus’ Body. Like, really. Our hands and feet and faces are the very Body of Christ.
Keeping Jesus’ word means to remember who we are. And that is what Jesus is trying to get across in his very last teaching session.
Commentators frequently call chapters 14 through 16 of John’s Gospel “The Farewell Discourse.” After the Last Supper, Jesus gives his followers an extended teaching.
|Edgar Degas’ “The Ballet Class”|
Strictly speaking, Jesus is not saying goodbye for three chapters. Instead, he is preparing his followers to be the post-resurrection people of God.
To use our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s way of talking, he is inaugurating a new era in the Jesus movement.
To be sure, Jesus does prepare his followers for the crucifixion and for the ascension. In other words, Jesus tells them plainly that he is going away.
The physical presence around which God has gathered the Jesus movement will be absent. Even though Jesus will rise with a spiritual body, he will ascend to his Father’s house.
So, for those accustomed to seeing Jesus’ face and hearing his voice and even smelling that Jesus-y fragrance in his hair and his clothes, Jesus will be gone.
And even for those to whom the risen Jesus chooses to show himself, the risen body of Jesus will no longer be present. The Jesus they have known will be absent.
He is quick to say, “Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be afraid.” Knowing Jesus as we do, we shouldn’t imagine that Jesus tells them to cowboy up and to stuff their very human responses into the cellar of their hearts. Instead, Jesus is telling them that he will be present in a new and even more powerful way.
His presence among his friends was changing, not ending. And the way in which Jesus was going to be present with his friends changes them. Jesus will change them from being his followers into being his Body. The Body of Christ.
Jesus is physically present to this world through our hands and our feet.
Our hands and feet are not the Body of Christ metaphorically because we adhere to a set of principles or we’re really nice people or we try to do lots of good works. We are the Body of Christ because the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, guides each of us, spiritually molds us, and, crucially, weaves us together into one.
As St. Paul put it, the same Spirit dwells in each of us. That’s why we are many members of one body.
At Baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in each of us and to weave us into the Body of all the baptized. In the Holy Eucharist we participate ever more fully in the life of the risen Christ. We become what we eat and drink. The Body of Christ.
|Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus”|
The spiritual challenge for us is to be who we truly are. To be the Body of Christ. And there is much at stake here. Although not what you may have in mind.
Too many of the people of God have fixated on doing what we need to do to get into to heaven and to avoid going to hell. We’ve made loving Jesus all about getting our own ticket to paradise.
I want you to think about keeping Jesus’ word from a different perspective.
What we know about anybody in this world comes through our senses. Yes, we intuit and use our heart and our imagination, but we know each other through our eyes and ears. And the world will know Christ through his Body. Through you and me.
The world will believe in Jesus to the extent that we are believable as the Body of Jesus. And we do not have the luxury of assigning one segment of our lives to doing Christ-like things while reserving the rest of it for all that worldly stuff we really like.
Jesus has marked us as his own forever. Every fiber of us. Whatever we do, whenever we do it, we do it as the Body of Christ. We are true to ourselves or we betray ourselves.
If we devote our lives to pursuing accomplishments and status, then when we repeat Jesus’ words about dying to self they will ring false.
If we struggle to dispense with material comforts so that others may eat and be properly clothed, it should not surprise us when people shrug indifferently at our call to love our neighbor as ourself.
When we seek to protect ourselves from harm by threatening violence against others, we should expect the world to respond with cynicism when we preach a peace not of this world.
Keeping Jesus’ word means fleshing out the divine love already present within us in the Holy Spirit. Jesus put it this way. There is no greater love than laying down our life for a friend.
And here is our challenge. Any friend of Jesus’ is a friend of ours. And Jesus chooses everybody as his friend. Simply everybody.