So in these inbetween days of the church year, when Jesus is ascended and the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet been sent down, God’s people are reminded that we have the freedom to be in process, to be not finished yet, to recognize changes and transitions in our lives uncomfortable as they may feel, because we are not alone. God is with us.
Jesus tells us something today that should absolutely astonish us: that you and I are called to be not just his servants, but his friends. The eternal and almighty God who created the heavens and the earth, who needs nothing and knows everything—this God wants to be friends with you and me. It means that God wants to spend time with us, to talk around the dinner table long into the night, for no other reason than the joy of friendship. It means God is faithful like a true friend is faithful, there for us when we need him, even if it means laying down his life. It means that the closer we are to God, the more we grow into better, fuller versions of ourselves. The wisest thinkers in the history of the church saw here a deep clue to the heart of the Christian faith. St. Thomas Aquinas said that this shows what we were made for: friendship with God. That’s why God made us: so that we could be his friends.
How do you know when you’ve done enough? How many times per day should I be praying? How do I measure up against really good Christians? What do I do with those uncomfortable moments in my car at a stoplight when someone reaches out their hand for change? Do I need to volunteer at a homeless shelter or a poor school once a week? Is my duty discharged if I tithe 10%?
I want to be grateful, and I want to be in tune with God; I want to be a good Christian and I want to teach my children how to be good Christians too; how do I do all that?
There is a wonderful story we have about St. John, the author of today’s Gospel and our epistle lesson. Tradition has it that all of the twelve disciples of Jesus except for John died a martyr’s death. John however lived to a very great age, ministering to the end to the churches he founded around Ephesus. The story is that John as he aged grew short of breath, and as he became older and weaker his sermons grew shorter and shorter. Toward the end of his life, his sermons had shrunk to just one line. John would be lifted up and carried to the front of the church, and his sermon would simply be: “Little children, love one another.”
So what I’m trying to say is that while we are at the mercy of so many internal powers -- physical and spiritual -- that are beyond our control, our habits and our communities, the people who we let baptize us and to speak truth into our lives, they’re used by God’s grace to be his hands, and to make those changes in us.
My guess is that the disciples were no dummies. They could see where all this was going. If they were sent out like the Father sent out Jesus, it was going to be to walk in his footsteps. Jesus had given everything he had and everything he was away, not only for his friends and his family but for people who had no idea who he was, and even for his enemies. If they left that room it might mean that they would have to do like Jesus did.
“Do not cling to me,” Jesus tells Mary Magdalene; “things are not as they were. This wasn’t just a bad dream from which you’ve awoken and which you can just forget and move on. Things will never be the same again. A real change has taken place. God our Father has overcome sin, death, and the devil, and he’s done it through flesh and blood, he’s made the new kingdom to be here and now. The old world, where women are not believed, where the poor get short shrift, where there are slaves and masters, where there are abusers and the abused, where there are addictions and pride and cancer and fear -- this old world is dying. I AM alive. I AM the first sign and I AM the promise of this new way of life, this new reality that is taking over. I AM here and now. I AM the future. Mary -- go and tell our brothers and sisters this Good News.”
Somehow no matter how many times we’ve heard it, it is not what we were expecting... The cross comes out of nowhere, like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. Of course, Jesus knew the cross was coming; he warned us a hundred different ways, but we didn’t see it. We didn’t see it because we didn’t want to see it. We didn’t see it coming, but the cross comes all the same. ...The cross of Jesus Christ shows us something that we absolutely must understand about the human condition. The passion of Christ shows us that the shadow of the cross will fall on every human life. The cross shows us that suffering in this life is unavoidable. In fact it shows us that the closer we’re following Christ, the more likely we are to share in his suffering.