Easter VI, 17th May 2020
Just two weeks and we shall be celebrating Whitsun and the great Season of Easter will come to its close and Ordinary Time will begin. However, there is really nothing ordinary and this year has been exceptional for being out-of-the ordinary. Nevertheless, the Mass readings for today, and particularly, chapter 14 of St. John`s Gospel verses 15 to 21 which is part of Our Lord`s “Farewell Discourse” at The Last Supper prepares his disciples – and indeed, prepares us, for the way in which Jesus remains with us even though he has already passed into Heaven but yet remains with His Body the Church, of which we are members, by the presence of His Holy Spirit.
To prepare the Eleven for his departure into heaven Jesus explains how he will ask the Father to give them another Advocate to be with them for ever. This Advocate is no less than the Third Person of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of truth! Jesus tells his disciples that the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit since it neither sees him nor knows him. He assures the disciples, and indeed, all who believe in him and accept him as Saviour and Lord, will know the Holy Spirit because he is with them and is in them just as he is with us and in us who are part of Christ`s Family.
On the night before he was betrayed Jesus is preparing his followers for his departure from this world, for his death, resurrection and ascension and for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to explain that he will not leave them as orphans.
Although we are just a few days before we celebrate Our Lord`s Ascension into Heaven, and we have in the Sundays since Easter Day witnessed a number of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples yet, on this Sunday, we are taken back to the Upper Room of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, after Judas Iscariot has left, in order that we might understand more fully Our Lord`s preparation of his disciples for his departure from this world in fulfilment of the Father`s will.
In the other two readings, first that from the Acts of the Apostles, which is the story of the beginning of the Christian Church we see how Philip, proclaiming the good news of Christ, was welcomed by the Samaritans and not least because of the miracles that they saw him working in the Name of Jesus. This would have been unusual since Jews and Samaritans would have nothing to do with each other and yet it is one of the signs that Jesus was Saviour not just of the First-Chosen People of God but rather for all who would accept him and his teaching. It is clear too that when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the Samaritans had accepted the word of God they sent Peter and John to them who prayed that those Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. Yes, they were aware that the Samaritans had received baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus and so they laid hands on them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit – in effect the first instance of the Sacrament of Confirmation – the seal of the Spirit!
It may surprise us that the disciples initially did not understand what Jesus meant when he proclaimed the Divine Presence of the Holy Spirit. In reality God`s promise of the Holy Spirit should not have been such a mystery to the followers of Jesus for the origin of the promise can be traced back in the Old Testament to both to Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In Jeremiah 31:31 – 33 we find God had promised to make a new covenant with His people. He promised to put his law within his people, writing it on their hearts, that he may be their God and that they may be his people. In the prophecy of Ezekiel we find that God promised to put a new human spirit within his people, to remove their hearts of stone and to give them a heart of flesh (11:19, 18:313 and 36:26) and in 36:37 his Spirit “enables them to follow his statues and be careful to observe his ordinances” Later, this is affirmed in St. Paul`s First Letter to the Corinthians 3: 16 when he writes, ”Do you not know that you are God`s Temple and that God`s Spirit dwells in you ?”
When we speak of the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Truth” we acknowledge part of His role as Advocate for as the Spirit of Truth he guides the church into all truth. When it says that the Holy Spirit “abides with you”, and “He will be in you” it means that he will be both with the Church and in every Christian. Just as he makes his dwelling within the Church, that was instituted by Jesus on the night that he was betrayed, so also he makes his dwelling in each and everyone of us who are Temples of the Holy Spirit.(1 Cor. 3:16). Members of the Church are the living stones that let themselves be built into a spiritual house, (1 Peter 2:4) Jesus himself being the cornerstone, chosen and precious, that whoever believes in him may not be put to shame. (1 Peter 2:6). This word, `Advocate` - a word with legal connotations, meaning a `helper` or `mediator` or `Counsel for the Defence` is used by Jesus when he says, “And I will asks the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.”(John 14:16) Why does Jesus say “another Advocate” ? Who was the first Advocate ? None other than Jesus himself for in St. John`s First Letter (1 John 2:1) we find these words: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if ianyone does sin, we have and Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Going back to today`s gospel reading we are reminded that Jesus promised that he would not leave his followers, then or now, as orphans. Indeed, as a sign of his infinite love for each and everyone of us, he has opened the door to our adoption as children – as brothers and sister of Jesus Christ the Son of God! And it is because we are such children that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So we are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Gal.4:6).
Perhaps, in our own difficult COVID-19 age, we do well to be reminded that no one accumulates Heavenly treasure by acknowledging the spiritual laws of love and obedience of Christ. Heavenly treasure is accumulated only by applying the life of Christ to our lives. Actions produce credits; words fade away! As the apostle St. James writes in his Letter: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works ? Can faith save you ? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, `God in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,` and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that ? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2: 14-17)