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6th Sunday of Easter

29 April 2016

A vision of God’s dwelling-place: the New Jerusalem, from the 14th-century Apocalypse tapestries in the chateau of Angers

A vision of God’s dwelling-place: the New Jerusalem, from the 14th-century Apocalypse tapestries in the chateau of Angers

Acts 16.9-15 [or Ezekiel 37.1-14]; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5; John 14.23-29 [or John 5.1-9]

 

God our redeemer, you have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your Son: grant that as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

THE pretext for Jesus’s patiently and beautifully explained promise that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come and dwell, or abide, in his disciples is a much simpler question from the Judas who is not Iscariot. He cannot understand how Jesus will reveal himself to them, but not to the world (John 14.22). That seems clear enough, but the intricate response is too elaborate under the circumstances.

The real pretext lies further back, in the prologue to the Gospel, which, in its panorama of the whole Gospel, explains that Jesus came to live among his own, but his own neither saw nor knew him. Now he is talking to those who have accepted him, and are ready to become “children of God” (John 1.10-13).

The play on dwelling or abiding in John 14 has been widely noted. It is easier to identify in the Greek text in the repeated use of forms of menein (to remain) and mone (dwelling). Those who first heard the gospel record of John proclaimed would have been aware of related words echoing through the passage, and that would have fixed the text in their memories. What an encouragement to be able to repeat later on: “My home is with you;” and “I will remain with you.”

Again, this idea is already present in the prologue, yet perhaps not in quite the same terms. The Word made flesh camped out in the world (John 1.14). The Word who returns to the Father finds in the Spirit a new way to come to stay, until the people in whom he and the Father make their dwelling-place are ready to inhabit the dwelling-place already prepared for them (John 14.1, 26).

Jesus is not leaving it to chance that the disciples might, with hindsight, look back when the events of his life on earth are over, and say: “So that is what it all meant.” He speaks to them about what is going to happen in advance at a level deeper than that of mere events, so that, when events happen, they will look for the truth that is Jesus himself (John 14.6). Like the writer of the Gospel, he does not expect the audience to understand what he is saying immediately, only to remember when they hear it again.

What he says about the living bond of love entailed by relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit does much the same work as the Johannine prologue (John 1.1-18). At this stage, however, it is enough to be able to call on the disciples’ love for him (John 14.23, 28) — the kind of love that is open and welcoming to the invitation of God in Christ.

This is the love manifest in the lives of the early recipients of the Christian story, such as Lydia, whose heart the Lord had “opened” to Paul’s preaching, and whose practical response was to say: “Come and stay at my home” (Acts 16.14-15). It is the kind of love that commits itself in trust, before it has full knowledge of where this might lead.

Those are timely considerations as the feast of the Ascension approaches. If the disciples wondered why the deepest possible unity and communion with God the Father in Jesus could not happen unless the Jesus they saw and touched went away, the same question might occur to us.

Charles Wesley, daring to think that it might have affected Jesus himself, writes one poignant backward glance into the magnificent Ascension hymn “Hail the day that sees him rise”:

 

See! the heaven its Lord receives, Alleluia!

Yet he loves the earth he leaves: Alleluia!

 

The writer of Revelation draws us beyond puzzlement to imagine what it might be like to inhabit the perfect relationship of Jesus’s account, and truly to dwell with God. The luxurious description of the visionary dimensions of the New Jerusalem, and the precious stones that adorn it, are almost a red herring (Revelation 21.10-21); for the real beauty is beyond description.

It is the new creation, made whole, and wholly integrated. There is no language yet for a world that is only light, only adoration, only God (Revelation 21.25, 22.3-5); and yet it is in the “eternal joy” of that world that the risen and ascended Jesus, who “has recalled us to life” (as the collect says), invites us to dwell.

 

The Sunday’s readings columns by Rosalind Brown from the previous lectionary cycle have now been published in a single volume, Fresh from the Word: A preaching companion for Sundays, holy days and festivals, years A, B & C (Canterbury Press, £19.99 (CT special offer: £15.99 when ordered from www.chbookshop.co.uk, voucher code WORD 416); 978-1-84825-853-2).

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