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Jesus said: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
These are the commandments Jesus gives those who follow him.
These commandments are not given or received lightly.
They are given as Jesus is preparing for the cross, and received by men and women who knew that the cost of this life of love could be their own deaths.
The love that Jesus commands, and that Jesus shows, is selfless, and constant. It is life-enhancing, indeed it is life-giving, even as it leads Jesus to lay down his life for his friends.
These commandments are given so that God’s kingdom – a kingdom of justice and peace – may grow.
Jesus is going to the Father. But he says to his friends:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
How is that possible?
The disciples do not have a stellar record thus far, when Jesus is physically present with them.
They are confounded by what he does and what he says.
They are frightened, and flee when it comes to his moment of trial.
How then, are they to do greater works even than he?
And how are we, frightened and constrained in so many ways, to follow in their steps?
Well, through the advocate.
The Spirit of Truth.
I wonder how long it took the disciples to recall these promises of safety, and presence, after the events at Calvary.
I know that when I am frightened, or worried, I need time to remember God’s presence and promise.
Throughout this Easter season we have been following the stations of the resurrections – accounts of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus in the Gospels.
Today’s station is also from John’s Gospel:
When he had said this, Jesus breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
As he has done throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows his love for his disciples, and for the world by action.
He does not expect the disciples to be perfect before he acts, but reaches out again and again, teaching them, providing for them, and loving them.
Each year at Easter, indeed each Sunday, we celebrate that active, expansive love, which Christ showed through the cross – and the promises kept to his disciples and to the church they built.
We do so with God present among us, because the promise of an advocate was kept too.
Jesus, ascending to the Father, did not leave his friends alone and frightened.
God’s spirit is given to the disciples, and to all who are baptised in Christ.
To this day we pray and worship in the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ.
I do not believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit turns the disciples into caped crusaders.
They are not superheroes, or demi-gods, and neither are we.
They, and we are human beings, subject to doubt, fear, jealousy, and any number of failings.
But they, and we, are not alone, and our humanity, which God cherishes, is transformed by the love of God, into the body of Christ.
Just as Jesus did not expect the disciples to be perfect before he invited them to be friends, to eat, and work together, so the Spirit does not wait for us to be perfect.
We need only ask, and God is there.
Jesus says to his disciples ‘I will not leave you orphaned.’
When we feel alone, and frightened, we need to remind ourselves of this promise, kept through centuries.
God is with us, indeed dwells within us, as close as our own breath.
That promise holds.
We are not alone.
Next week Thy Kingdom Come, an annual global commitment to prayer, begins once more.
Each day from Ascension to Pentecost, we will as a community pause and reflect on another station of the resurrection.
We will rejoice together, that God’s kingdom is near, and pray for the gift of the spirit, to comfort, equip, and inspire us he did the first disciples 2000 years ago.
Even in isolation, we can still witness to God’s kingdom, and pray for its fulfilment.
I was reminded of that powerfully this week, as I went into the Minster for the first time since lockdown began, to light the paschal candle, and pray for those who have been affected by the coronavirus.
It was one of the most powerful moments in my ministry.
Standing in front of the symbol of the light of Christ, I prayed the Lord’s prayer – a prayer which has been said in that place by countless people over the centuries.
That prayer, prayed through the Spirit, can be a space where we are reminded of God’s constancy, and where we meet God each day.
A life lived in love does not mean an easy life.
But love builds up hope and life as nothing else can, and enables us to live lives that build a kingdom, even in the midst of strange and fearful times.
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
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