EASTER IV – Cantate Domino
Introit: (Psalm 98) O sing unto the Lord a new song, alleluia: for he hath done marvellous things, alleluia: in the sight of the nations hath he shewed his righteousness, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. With his own right hand, and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory. Glory be … O sing unto the Lord …
Collect: O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord God is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted. Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee. (Isaiah 12.1-6)
Alleluia. The right hand of the Lord bringeth mighty things to pass: the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me. Alleluia.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1.17-21)
Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. (St John 16.5-15)
“O sing unto the Lord a new song: for he hath done marvellous things.”
Today’s Gospel lesson is again taken from Our Lord’s final discourse with His disciples at the Last Supper. Some of you may have noted that, chronologically, this passage comes before last week’s reading. While this may seem out of order, this is because in the Traditional Lectionary, the lessons are arranged thematically or theologically, rather than sequentially, as in the Revised Lectionary. Thus, as we draw closer to Ascension and Pentecost, we are taught to contemplate not only our Lord’s bodily departure, but the subsequent coming of the Holy Ghost. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus warned the disciples of His going away, but reassures them that the sorrow they will experience will be but for a short time, comparing it with labour pains, giving birth to a new form of life. In today’s Gospel, He explains more precisely the nature of that new life. The departure of the visible, bodily presence of Christ, first through His Passion, and then by His Ascension, although it would entail great sorrow and loss for them, would inaugurate a new and living relationship with God, as Our Lord imparted two precious and life-altering gifts upon His Church—peace with God, and His Holy Spirit. Thus, today’s readings set before us the essence of the Easter season: resurrection and transformation from worldliness to new life in the Spirit.
“It is expedient (i.e., advantageous) for you that I go away,” says Jesus, “for if I go not away, the Paraclete will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” The Greek word παράκλητος or “paraclete” is difficult to translate, as evidenced by the diverse words used in the various English versions of the Bible. It literally means one called alongside, and its most usual reference is to a legal advocate—someone who speaks on your behalf and in your defence. “Comforter” is the familiar King James word, but in the sense of fortifier or supporter, rather than consoler. Now it might sound as though Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit is greater than Himself—that it is more advantageous for the disciples to lose Him, but gain the Paraclete. But the Holy Spirit does not come to replace Christ, or give a greater advantage than Christ, but to connect the apostles to Christ—and through the apostles, to connect the entire Church to Christ. And in this way it is to our advantage that Christ departs and the Paraclete comes. The Spirit will glorify the Son by taking what is the Son’s and declaring it to the Church. And yet, what belongs to the Son is nothing other than what belongs to the Father. The promised coming of the Holy Spirit then is a great comfort to us, for without the Spirit we would be disconnected from Christ.
The work of the Holy Spirit is entirely wrapped up in the work of Christ, and the work of Christ is the work of the Father. Jesus has come to reveal the Father through His own life and ministry. And the Holy Spirit will be sent when Jesus is glorified and ascended, in order to keep us connected to Christ, who reconciles us to the Father. So long as Jesus was physically present with them, the disciples would continue to know Him only in an external way—a great teacher and miracle-worker, a martyr, a messiah, but nothing more. Only by His departure would that become a deeper, spiritual, and eternal relationship; only then will they be able to know His real and eternal presence in their lives, through the power, the support, the advocacy of the Holy Spirit. He says, in effect, “the Holy Spirit will actually take all that I have taught, and all that I am about to do, and infuse it into your lives. When the Holy Spirit comes to you, I won’t just be standing next to you—I will be in you, and you will be inMe!”
Jesus has been teaching the disciples for three years about what it means to live in His Kingdom. Now He is about to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sins upon the cross, but somehow the new life He is about to make possible must be applied to those who believe and trust in Him—somehow His Kingdom has to be brought into existence now that He has laid the foundation for it. And that ‘somehow’ is the work of the Holy Spirit—to take all the saving work of Jesus and actually apply it to His people. It is the Holy Spirit who creates the Church. As long as Jesus was here on earth, His presence was localized. In order for the new life He offered to be ours, and His Kingdom to become a reality, He must return to the Father—He must leave us and send His Spirit.
Jesus then goes on to speak of the effects of this new spiritual relationship: “When [the Holy Spirit] is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged.” When the Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost it was like a flood of light from heaven that exposed the darkness of the world. On that day everything that the apostles had seen and heard while walking with Jesus for those three years suddenly came together and they finally understood. The Spirit gave them clarity and eloquence so that Peter got up and preached to the crowd—something he would never have attempted before. And as he proclaimed that Spirit-inspired message, St Luke tells us that the multitudes were “cut to the heart” and asked, “What do we do now?” And the Spirit likewise gave Peter the answer: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2.38-39).
To know God by the Holy Spirit is to have a new and significantly different worldview; sin and righteousness and judgement are no longer seen in terms of worldly standards and authorities. The Holy Spirit shows us the source of true righteousness. Righteousness is not being as good as one’s own experiences allow or require. Righteousness is found in Christ who has gone to the Father, who has entered the holy place not with the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood… “For if the blood of bulls and goats … sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb 9.11-14).
Even to talk or think about human life, morality, and religion in terms of “values,” is to conform our minds to this present world, since the language of “values” assumes that we mortals determine our own destiny and goals, that we decide what is good for us, that we form our own character. Christianity teaches quite the opposite: that God is Judge and determines the destiny of us all; that God creates the true human good and, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then recreates, renews, and transforms our lives and characters by re-shaping them according to the likeness of His beloved Son. Thus our good is not of our own effort (much less our own essence); it is a gift from God. The resurrection is the basis of our faith—we trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And the resurrection shows us our eternal future. Particularly in St John’s Gospel (though no less in the rest of Scripture), sin is essentially unbelief—a rejection of the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ, while righteousness is obedience to that truth. When God’s truth is obeyed, the basis of judgement will no longer be a worldly standard, but a heavenly one, “because the prince of this world is judged,” and proven false. The Holy Spirit will be the living Guide to all that is true, because He is “the Spirit of Truth.”
“What is truth?” asked Pilate at Christ’s trial. This has been the perennial question since the dawn of the human race. For many today, truth is relative, nebulous, ever-changing, purely personal and subjective—the only truth is “my truth,” and only “for this moment.” But is that really to be our standard? “What is truth?” The Gospels show us that the better question might be, “Who is truth?” for Jesus says earlier in this same discourse, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14.6). The truth, then, is not some abstract philosophical concept, but a concrete and living Person. The truth of God is fully revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the Christian Faith. “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth, for he shall not speak on his own authority, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak … He shall glorify me, for he shall take what is mine and declare it to you.”Just as Our Lord never sought His own glory, but was always seeking to glorify the Father, so the Holy Spirit never seeks His own glory, but always points us to Jesus and seeks to glorify Him. The Spirit shines the light of Christ into the hearts of sinners and turns our eyes to the eternal truth of God. But, in pointing people to Christ for righteousness, the Spirit also reveals judgement upon those who refuse His light, preferring to dwell in the shadows, as Our Lord says, “This is the condemnation: that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3.19). The Spirit’s mission is to guide Christ’s people—collectively, not individually—into truth—God’s Truth; not following “the unruly wills and affections of sinful men” or “the sundry and manifold changes of the world,” but loving “the thing which Thou commandest.” Our lives find their truth and meaning in God’s engagement with our humanity through the Son and by the Spirit. As St James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the Word of Truth.”
The original text of today’s Collect (1549, cf. the Missal version) was an exact translation of the Latin: “Almighty God, which dost make the minds of all faithful men to be of one will …” For whatever reason, the present form was eventually adopted, but while it is certainly beautiful and eloquent, the aspect of unity has been removed, which is unusual, since the Gospel speaks so pointedly of the Holy Spirit who effects this unity. We are all vitally linked together by the Spirit as the Body of Christ. Yes, the Spirit works in each of us individually, but His ultimate purpose in doing so is to bring Christ’s people together, uniting us to Him. Our Lord promised that His Spirit would guide His Church into all truth collectively, as His Body, and not privately as individuals.
As the Body of Christ, we need each other in order to function in the way Our Lord intended, but to do so we have to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather than pursuing our own ways and then trying to claim them as the work of the Spirit when we get what we want. Many people nowadays claim that their experience of “the work of the Holy Spirit” contradicts some teaching of Christ or some commandment of God revealed in the Scriptures. But such a contradiction is impossible. As God told Malachi, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal 3.6). God does not change in either His goodwill towards us or in His revelation of Himself and His Truth to us. Thus, the Holy Spirit cannot possibly contradict what God and His Christ have already revealed, since they revealed it, after all, by the Holy Spirit in the first place—that same Spirit Who is Himself God, One with the Father and the Son, and Who with them, as the Lord God, does not change. Consider the words from today’s Gospel: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” The Holy Spirit does not speak independently, but for and with the Father and the Son. As Our Lord continues: “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” But even Jesus Himself has no separate truth of His own, as He explains, since all of the Truth begins with God the Father. “All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he [the Holy Spirit] shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” The unity of the Holy Trinity is very much in evidence here. That same Spirit of Truth Who descended upon the Church at Pentecost is in perfect union with God the Father and God the Son. So when the Holy Spirit leads the Church and her members “into all truth,” it is not some new truth, but must be the same perfect Truth revealed by the Blessed Trinity in the Holy Scriptures, because that is the changeless Truth of the one and only changeless God.
In this regard, we need the collective wisdom and witness of the whole of the Church Catholic—both our brothers and sisters here on earth (the entire Church Militant), AND those who have gone before us and are now part of the Church Triumphant—whom the same Spirit has led into truth before us. The Spirit unites us in Christ’s Body, and when He guides us into truth, it is specifically into Christ’s truth—into God’s eternal Truth. Those “good gifts” we now enjoy have been given by God to help us tend towards Him. James continues, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”
The witness of the Holy Spirit is the witness of the Church. It is now up to the Church, animated by the Holy Spirit, to convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about condemnation. By our very lives as members of Christ’s Body, you and I are committed to show the world the folly of sin. Christ alone is the sinless One, but as His Body, this is what we aspire to as well: we would be sinless as He is sinless. It is so important for us to understand that the witness that you and I give is a reflection upon Our Lord. We influence our neighbours primarily by the example of our life. Thus, as Christians, we must strive to remove sin and all its root causes from our lives. We are then able to receive the Gospel, “the ingrafted Word,” and live the new life Christ offers to us. Faith is not a natural attainment of human endeavour, but the work of the Holy Spirit—a divine gift planted in our hearts—but we must willingly cooperate with it, being “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” God alone can give us a goal and object of our faith, hope, and love which is worthy and good. As St Augustine writes:
Present reality without that hope is, to be sure, a false happiness, in fact an utter misery. For the present does not bring into play the true good of the mind; since no wisdom is true wisdom if it does not devote its attention, in all its prudent decisions, its resolute actions, its self-control and its just dealings with others, toward that ultimate state in which God will be all in all, in the assurance of eternity and the perfection of peace. (City of God XIX, 20)
“Behold, God is my salvation,” sings Isaiah, “I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord God is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Is 12.2-3). In John chapter 7, Jesus says: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And, John adds, “this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive” (7.37-39). With His physical departure from this world, Our Lord sends the good and perfect gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us into that truth which leads to eternal life. We have been “brought to new birth by the word of truth” through God’s gift of grace, and we now live in that Word of truth by the Spirit of Truth.
The solution is not in gimmicks, or programming, or social activism, or cultural “wokeness”—it is not in adding things to the Gospel, but in living the Gospel itself in a right relationship with God, allowing it to shape our lives and our loves, and in bearing Christ’s message to the people around us. It has to begin there and flow from there, or it is not authentic Christianity at all. There is no other way for us to live as a Christian people than to be rooted and grounded in the Person of Jesus Christ as Lord and centre of our being. We do not belong to some nice little holiness club with a set of ethical standards. We belong to a living organism, the Body of Christ, that is animated by the Holy Spirit. And that same Holy Spirit gives witness to the world through us.
If we would be a Church full of spiritual life and vitality, we need first to be people steeped in the truth of the Word of God which Jesus declares to us and applies to our hearts through the Holy Spirit. If we seek to transform our world, the power to do so comes only as we first allow the Spirit to transform our own lives. And if we are to be bearers of the light of Christ, we must live the truth of the Gospel each and every day through the fortifying power of the Holy Spirit. These are the good and perfect gifts of new birth and new life … resurrection and transformation … which are from above, and come down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, Who of His own will begat us with the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creation. God has drawn us to Himself through Christ, and has given us His Spirit. We are caught up into the very life of the Holy Trinity. This is the life-giving and life-changing gift of the great Paschal mystery within us. What better gift could we ever receive?
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.”
! ܡܫܝܚܐ ܩܡ
Kristur er upprisinn!
Christ is risen!
Collect: O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may stedfastly follow his steps in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.