April 24, 2016
Verse: John 16:14
For he will not speak on his own behalf, but will speak whatever he hears, and will announce the things to come. John 16:14
It is not without cause that St. John the Evangelist, the author of our Gospel, is also known as St. John the Divine.
Nor is it a random accident that the three statues that adorned our altar on West 43rd Street, and will again beautify it here, are of the Lord with St. Matthew to his left, and St. John to his right. The reason being that St. Matthew best discloses the Lord's humanity; while St. John unveils his divinity for us. We perceive it throughout this fourth gospel, but especially in these latter Eucharistic chapters; ones that seem more mysterious than the rest; and that give the impression of shedding space and time, and connecting earth to heaven and man to God.
But to comprehend them is slow going. You cannot surf St. John like you do the internet; or give it scant attention like skimming a string of Tweets at a red light. We must be patient.
So what does the Lord mean when he says that the Spirit, "will not speak on his own behalf, but will speak whatever he hears"? Or for that fact when the Lord says of himself, "I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me."
Here we learn the existence of a Divine Conversation. Here we discern the mutual love and blessed interactions of the persons of the holy Trinity. Here we get a passing glance of what goes inside of God, and it is a thrilling thought! But also like trying to stare at the sun! It's not something a person can do for very long. And so for now we must be content simply to know that the sun shines, to soak up its benefits, and to bask in the light of its glory.
But that doesn't mean we are clueless either, because Jesus is not just he Son of God, but also the Word of God; and that is not a figure of speech!
As your own words reside within you, even so Jesus is the eternal Word that resides within the Father from eternity. This is what he means when he says, "I am in the Father." And St. John is quick to inform us that while no one has ever seen God, the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known to us.
But not just as intellectual knowledge. Yes, that is part of it. But the Christian religion is more than notions, doctrines and ideas. It is the factual forgiveness of sins. It is life and salvation, calm and consolation, peace and joy, gained for us by our Lord's sacrificial death on the cross.
But it is more besides! Because Jesus did not only win victory over our sins for us, and over the dead works we are so terribly addicted to. But he also imparts and distributes the blessings of salvation to us. He does it here; and he is doing it now. Those are the Good and Perfect gifts that St. James references in his Epistle, that come down from the Father of Lights, who of his own will gave us new birth by Jesus, Word of Truth.
For you see, Divine Service is the place where we are made privy to Divine Conversation. Here the Word of God spoken in eternity, and from all eternity is heard by man, seen by man, believed by man, followed by man, experienced by man. We are those men.
For what else is Christian worship than a Divine Conversation between God and humanity using the language of God. Here God speaks, and we like little children learning how to talk, take his words in until we can repeat them for ourselves, and learn what they mean; so that God's Word becomes our word, our language, the very breath that we breathe.
When the Lord gave his Word to Ezekiel he commanded the prophet: "Eat this scroll, and go speak to the house of Israel." "So I opened my mouth," says Ezekiel, "and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, "Son of man feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it." Then I ate it and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. And he said to me, "Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them."
What the church did in Ezekiel's day 2600 years ago, it still does today. It gives voice to Gods words, and invites all who long for divine consolation, in the face of insurmountable evil, to join this Divine Conversation.
But we don't only hear God's word in this house, but like Ezekiel we eat it, too. Not in the form of a scroll but under the forms of bread and wine. Not the corpse of Jesus dead on the cross, but his resurrected, glorified and all-powerful body; which in turn gives power, glory and indestructible life to us … and there is nothing better than that!
But as part of his last will and testament, made on the night in which he was handed over for our transgressions, the Lord wants us to know that it is the Helper, God own Spirit, who informs, leads and guides the church into all truth.
That night the disciples were convinced that there was nothing better than having Jesus with them, but the Lord tells them differently. "It is to your advantage that I go away," he says, "for if I do not go the Helper will not come to you." And so Jesus went away. He went where no man could, to do what no man can. He went to the cross where the Word Made Flesh suffered the full force of our sins, and our judgment, in order to render sinners righteous by faith. We are those sinners so rendered.
He went away beyond death, beyond the grave and returned to the Father from which he came. But he did not leave us orphans.
On the contrary. As he bowed his head in death St. John reports that he "handed over the Spirit;" and he is the one who, by holy baptism, makes us participants in this Divine Conversation; one that will continues into the ages of ages. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.