(Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35)
There is something appropriate about revisiting the words of Jesus – words spoken before his death and resurrection – with the hindsight of Easter. In the post-Easter period we, like the disciples, are invited to re-think Jesus’ words in light of the risen Messiah.
As far as the church calendar is concerned we sit between the resurrection and the Ascension. For those first students of Jesus it must have been a time of processing, re-imagining, re-assessing all they had ‘seen and heard’. After all, nothing would ever be the same again.
This was not a quick process. We have just heard the account of Peter before the apostles and believers in Jerusalem. There, despite Jesus radical approach to the Gentiles (Read: ‘the nations’- or ‘us’), Peter felt it necessary to account for his willingness to share table fellowship with people who were not Jewish. It took a vision, a timely visit, and the gift of the Holy Spirit to convince him that God had other plans.
It takes a lot – even on the part of God – to get people to change. Perhaps, given the reading we have just heard from Revelation, we do well to see this ongoing process of allowing God to reshape our thinking and challenge our prejudices in terms of God’s preparation of us – ‘…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’.
Many of Jesus teachings initially seemed strange in the extreme – and difficult to imagine how to implement. I can imagine the disciples, like we do today, revisiting Jesus’ claims as they processed the previously unthinkable events and appearances surrounding that unforgettable Passover in Jerusalem. It took time to process what a resurrected Jesus implied.
They, like us, needed to re-think everything in light of the resurrection.
We do well – of course – to echo this process. Our gospel reading is one of the classic passages that needs the light of the resurrection to make it shine in all its brilliance.
Significantly, Jesus words occur immediately after Judas, now knowing that Jesus knows his intentions, has left the Passover meal to trade his Rabbi for silver. Judas’ actions are a beginning. Although none of the disciples are in the know, the reality of Jesus coming suffering, death, and resurrection is closer than ever.
And so, Jesus addresses his eleven faithful followers. Although it may not have been immediately obvious, Jesus’ words offer an alternative to the standard interpretation of the events about to take place. He does not talk in terms of defeat. He does not speak of failure. He does not even directly address the reality of death or ponder cross and curse.
Strangely, even as Judas approaches the authorities, Jesus’ words point to a present and coming ‘glory’. This act, no less than our Psalm’s stars in the sky, will bring honour and praise.
Somehow, Jesus’ suffering and death will bring glory to God – and God will respond with a glorification of God’s own. There will be an absence that they will not be able to bridge. The only instruction is that through all the uncertainty they love as they have been loved.
It must have seemed so cryptic at the time. Indeed it was.
But now ‘Christ is risen’. Everything – even the very words of Jesus – need to be re-visited in this new, heavenly, light.
Make no mistake, the suffering and death of Jesus did reveal – mysteriously – the extravagant, humble, glory of God. God’s resurrection of Jesus was nothing short of the creator’s tick of approval for the life and sacrifice of Christ. It was a journey taken for us, not with us. It offered a new understanding of love worthy of our careful and ongoing imitation.
Indeed, even before the disciples could possibly begin to see Easter in terms of God’s glory and God’s love, Jesus was urging them to allow these realities to define them and their relationship with the world. After all the disciples were the first – although they could not possibly have realised it – to catch a glimpse of God’s plan for creation.
The fullness of that plan we can only imagine – although John – in the Spirit on the isle of Patmos – offered a teaser:
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
They will be his peoples,
And God himself will be with them;
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
Morning and crying and pain will be no more,
For the first things have passed away.”
And then, from the one seated on the throne: “See, I am making all things new.”
Until then we faithfully build our lives around the sacrificial love demonstrated on the cross. Indeed, Jesus hoped – and later in John prayed – that such love would come to characterise those willing to build their lives around the simplest – perhaps earliest – of creeds: ‘Christ is Risen: He is Risen Indeed’.