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Sunday Scripture: Jesus’ departure and return

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

By Terrance Callan

Sixth Sunday of Easter; Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelations 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

It is painful to be separated from those we love. This is especially true when we are separated by death, but also when distance, disagreement or distraction separate us.

Although Jesus has returned to the Father through His death and resurrection and is no longer with us the way He once was, He continues to be with us in other ways.

The reading from the Gospel according to John is a portion of Jesus’ farewell to His disciples at the Last Supper. In this passage Jesus refers to His imminent departure —  His death and resurrection —  but also promises to return to His disciples: “I go away for a while, and I come back to you.”
Not only will Jesus come to them, the Father will do so also. Jesus says, concerning the one who is true to Jesus’ word, that Jesus and the Father “will come to him and make our dwelling place with him always.” By making this promise Jesus gives His disciples the gift of peace as He prepares to depart from them. They should not be distressed by Jesus’ departure because they know that He will return.

Jesus and the Father will come to the disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection in the form of “the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name.” Jesus and the Father are with us in the sense that we are filled with their Holy Spirit, the same life by which Jesus and the Father live. In addition to being the presence of Jesus and the Father with us, the Holy Spirit also reminds us of all that Jesus said and instructs us in everything.

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows how the Holy Spirit instructed the church at one point in its early history. One of the most important and difficult questions faced by the early church was whether or not Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised and keep the rest of the Mosaic law. Jesus and His earliest followers were Jews; for them this question did not arise. But when Gentiles became followers of Jesus, it was necessary to decide whether or not they needed to become Jews in order to be followers of Jesus. Some followers of Jesus answered the question one way, some another. The reading tells about a meeting at which the question was decided.

About 18 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, some people came from Jerusalem to Antioch and said that Gentile Christians did need to keep the Jewish law in order to be Christians. So the church of Antioch sent Paul, Barnabas and others to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders there about the question. The account of the meeting itself is not included in the reading. However, the reading tells us what was decided at the meeting, that Gentile Christians need not keep the Jewish law.
The apostles and elders in Jerusalem conveyed this decision to the church in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia in these words, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours, too, not to lay on you any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary.” The Holy Spirit brought the church to this decision. In a similar way the Holy Spirit has guided the church throughout its history and continues to do so today.

The reading from the book of Revelation looks forward to the consummation of history when Jesus and the Father will be with us not only through the Holy Spirit, but directly. The reading describes the new Jerusalem that will come from heaven when the new world dawns. The whole city will sparkle like a diamond. There will be no temple in the new Jerusalem; the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, i.e., Jesus, will be its temple. God and the Lamb will be present in the city without the mediation of a temple. They will be present as the light of the city. The glory of God will give it light, and its lamp will be the Lamb.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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