I Will Come to You
Sixth Sunday of Easter. fr John O’Connor explains how Jesus Christ continues to be present in His Church.
Living in a Dominican religious community I have to take my turn at cooking the evening meal. When I lived in a larger community, I would use tried and tested recipes. The same few recipes over and over again. But now that I am living in a smaller community, my turn to cook comes up more often. So I have found myself looking up recipe books for new ideas, something I have not done for a long time!
Sometimes a recipe book will say something like, “Don’t worry that the mixture does not look good at this stage. That is how it is meant to be. Just put it in the oven, and it will turn out fine.” When faced with a culinary concoction that looks more like a lumpy puddle than something tasty to eat, this friendly advice is most reassuring!
In some ways, Jesus in the Gospel reading for this Sunday is not wholly dissimilar to the reassuring cookbook writer. Part of what Jesus is doing in the final discourses to his disciples at the Last Supper is alerting them to the fact that soon things won’t look good, but, in spite of appearances, that is how it is meant to be and things will turn out fine because it is part of God’s plan. As Jesus says:
“And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.”
Jesus is soon to be taken away from them, arrested, and crucified. When this happens, it will seem that things have gone disastrously wrong. It will seem that Jesus has been defeated and that he is just one more false prophet.
Hopefully, when these horrendous events take place, somewhere at the back of the disciples’ minds will be some memory of Jesus’s words. Hopefully, even in the midst of doubt and terror, Jesus’s words will provide some reassurance and his disciples won’t lose faith. This is how it is meant to be. It will turn out fine because it is part of God’s plan.
But even after the Resurrection there is still another shock to come. After the great joy of seeing the Lord again, risen from the dead, they will need to say goodbye to him again. The Son must ascend to the Father.
It is hardly surprising that the disciples would regard Jesus going away from them, even if he is going to the Father, with a certain sadness. Jesus presumably realises how they will experience his going from them, so he says to them that if they love him, then they would rejoice because he is going to the Father. But they should also rejoice because, as Jesus says: “I go away, and I will come to you.”
But what does Jesus mean by this? Jesus clearly seems to be referring to his death and his resurrection, going from them and coming back to them when he is risen. But I think Jesus is also referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus goes to the Father so that the Father will send the Spirit in Jesus’s name, and that the Risen Lord will be with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus ascends to the Father, but he does not abandon us.
I think it is fair to say that many Christians think that if Jesus were physically with us today in the flesh, then our Christian lives would be better than they are. It is a very understandable thought. Certainly, it would be wonderful to be able to hear Christ’s words and to witness his great works for ourselves.
But the Gospels encourage us to question this line of thought and to see the good in our current situation. And we should not forget that many who heard Jesus’s words and who witnessed his great works did not follow him once the novelty wore off or it became inconvenient.
But there is another reason. Jesus’s death and resurrection and his Ascension into the Father’s glory bring us into a new stage of humanity’s relationship with God. This is the stage in which we have the Church and in which we have been given the Spirit, our Counsellor, our Helper, our Advocate.
There is nothing second class about this; and there need be nothing second class about our Christian lives today. Admittedly, we have not witnessed Jesus’s preaching and great works when he was physically with us, but we have the gift of the Spirit, who guides us, who makes the Risen Lord present in our hearts.
How do we know this? Because Jesus is Risen, and he has given us words of reassurance. He must go to the Father, so that the Father will send the Spirit in his name. This is how it is meant to be. Things will turn out fine because it is part of God’s plan.
Readings: Acts 15:1-2,22-29 | Apocalypse 21:10-14,22-23 | John 14:23-29
The image above is from the Holy Ghost chapel in Walsingham.