A sermon, based on John 14.23-29, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019
Words attributed to Teresa of Ávila,(1) the 16th century Spanish saint and mystic, serve as an Eastertide meditation on the Christian life:
Christ has no body now but ours.
No hands, no feet on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Ours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Ours are his hands, his feet, his eyes. We are his body.
Jesus, crucified, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, now, on earth, has us. We’re it! A point reflected in today’s gospel passage.
However, before getting to it, I digress, for three reasons.
First, our gospel, removed, uprooted from its context, begins rather oddly: “Jesus answered him…”
Second, the gospel passage, in your bulletin insert, reads, “Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot).” The replacement of the word “answered” with “said” and the identification of the person to whom Jesus spoke are necessary for our reading and listening comprehension.
Third, as an aside, Jesus had two disciples named Judas; Judas son of Simon Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, and this Judas son of James.(2)
Now, as Jesus answered Judas son of James, it begs the question: What did Judas son of James ask Jesus?
On the night before his arrest and trial, crucifixion and death, Jesus prepared his disciples for life without him. Of the many things he taught them, one was the connection between loyalty and love: “They who…keep my commandments are those who love me…and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”(3) Judas asked, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” In other words, Jesus, is the revelation, your revelation of who you are only for us, your disciples, or for everyone? And if your revelation is for everyone how will it be revealed and by whom?
Now, let us listen again to Teresa of Ávila:
Christ has no body now but ours…
Ours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion…
the feet with which he walks to do good…
the hands through which he blesses all the world…
We are his body.
Big job? Yes! Impossible job? Yes! So, has Jesus set us up to fail? No! (Though a cursory glance at the history of Christianity and the countless acts of violence, replicating the crucifixion, committed by Christians against others, demonstrates there is plenty of failure to go around! But it ain’t Jesus’ fault!) For “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name (and, for us, already has sent!), will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The Holy Spirit, God’s indwelling(4) presence, inspires, inspirits us, breathes in us the peace of Jesus. The shalom of God. That sense of wholeness, wellness, rightness with God that encourages us, empowers us, despite our sinfulness, to speak and act as Jesus in this world.
So, continuing our Eastertide meditation on the, our Christian life, I ask: What does it mean for us to be Christ’s body, hands, feet, eyes. To put this another way, paraphrasing Judas’ question to Jesus: How will we, how do we reveal Christ to others and to the world?
I never will ask of you what I will not do. So, this is my answer. Every day, though, yes, I fail, yet, trusting in the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, I strive to do, to be unconditional and impartial love and justice, benevolence and fairness toward all.
That’s what it is for me. What is it for you? For Christ has no body now but ours. We are his body.
(1) Teresa of Ávila (March 28, 1515-October 4, 1582). Note: I have modified Saint Teresa’s words. Where she employed “yours,” as in “Christ has no body now but yours,” etc., I, for the purposes of amplifying what I see and believe to be the heart of Christianity as an incarnational religion (that is, the Spirit of God not only taking flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, but also in us), I use “ours.”
(2) See Luke 6.16 and Acts 1.13
(3) John 14.21a,c
(4) Regarding the nature of God’s empowering presence within us, I refer to Jesus’ testimony: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…(whom you know)…because he abides with you, and he will be in you (John 14.15-17a, c) (emphasis, mine).
Illustration: Teresa of Ávila (1615), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria