A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
In today’s Gospel we return to St. John’s account of the Last Supper, because it is just now, in the days following Easter, that Christ’s teaching, there, at the Passover, becomes more plain: only now, as we see how the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in our Lord’s Passion, and the way of Redemption opened by His Resurrection—only in the peace and beatitude of Easter—can we begin to contemplate the way that lies ahead, both for Him, and for us. For Jesus, the story of His earthly Incarnation reaches its completion and fulfillment with His return to the Father, to take His seat in heavenly glory. And this, He tells us, is for our joy also, though at first it will seem a trial and a sorrow. Like the disciples we wonder, what can this mean?
In the first place, like the people of Israel, who longed for the restoration of their earthly kingdom, we must come to accept that our faith is not a vessel of earthly reward; it is not for the glorification of this mortal life that Jesus suffers, but so that we may pass from this earthly way into His own, heavenly, kingdom. Our joy is to be eternal, and perfect, free from the fears and limits of our lives here and now. And we know this because Jesus goes before us, as He told the disciples, ‘to prepare our place’. Our humanity is already there, in His person, God and man; not, as the Athanasian Creed reminds us, by the conversion of the Godhead into man, but by the taking of our manhood into God. We are to be the guests called up from the lowest seats at the feast, to come and sit with the Lord at the high table, where our joy is full, and free. Yet this is hard for us at first, the turning toward a heavenly goal and blessing, because it means the loss of our earthly ambitions and aspirations, such as they were, before we knew God’s Redeeming love for us. The hopes we had, in our fallen troubles, were the only good we knew then, and it is at first a kind of heartbreak, to let them go. But Christ calls us away from those old dwellings, only so that we may come, and dwell with Him. Always the greatest difficulty that we face is to allow ourselves to imagine that God, God Himself, should truly love us in this way. We expect at best a handout for the poor; He gives us Himself.
And therefore, says St. Peter, you are ‘strangers and pilgrims’ now, in this earthly life. And as pilgrims, you are signs of the destination for which you travel. “Let your conduct among the Gentiles be honourable; that, whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may, by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” We are to be the icons of heaven, which means that we both begin to know the joys of that new homeland, as we turn to its King with faith and thanksgiving, and that we reveal its promise to the world around us, as we suffer the trials of this corruptible earth, yet more and more are found “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, and continuing instant in prayer.” (Rom.12:12) So let it be, according to His word.