The readings today in John’s Gospel and Revelation offer us a moment to reflect on what I would like to call, the ‘in-between’ times. Here we find ourselves sitting alongside Jesus individually and as a parish community; where we are waiting hopefully, praying with faith, hoping with love, perhaps bracing ourselves for what is to come and trusting whatever has happened is not the end.
I want to use the image of the scrim curtain. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this piece of theatre. It is a gauzy, translucent cloth that drops down as a screen or backdrop on stage and appears opaque until it is lit from behind. Then the actors and props on the stage become clear. I’m hoping you can you hold this idea as we walk through today’s reflection.
The Gospel takes us to the last meal Jesus is sharing with his disciples and friends. This follows on from a tumultuous entry into Jerusalem where the hopes of all who were following him were pinned on his successful overthrow of the oppressors, the Roman invaders and perhaps even teaching a thing or two to the religious leaders. They were looking for a regime change, a return to glory for the Jewish people.
The disciples have gathered for a meal before the Passover and as part of his welcome and to show his abiding love, Jesus has washed his companions’ feet before sitting down to the meal and starting to speak.
This is known as the Farewell Discourse. Jesus tells his disciples about the betrayal to come and Judas leaves the group. Jesus then turns to his disciples and talks to them of love. (John 13:31-35)
The context is critical, the moment is extraordinary. We are experiencing ‘in between’ times. The meal is prepared, the discussion is underway, but it is as if we are looking through a scrim.
What is Jesus talking about?
Jesus talks of the Son of Man being glorified, of God being glorified in him and he in God. By glory, Jesus does not mean political success on earth. This is not about self-promotion, ego filled status or reputation grabbing headlines. And what does glory have to do with betrayal and abandonment?
The crucifixion and the cross are not the final or only expression of glory,. It is the entirety of the Word made flesh, the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension which together indicate the glory of God, the revelation of the very presence of God in Jesus and Jesus in God.
The life and death of Jesus are glory personified. That which becomes human must die, there is no doubt about this – but here it is God who has become human, and God who will die.
To believe in Jesus is to know the depth and breadth of God’s decision to become human. It is a decision that has everything to do with how much God wants to be with us, how much God is already truly in us whether we know it or not, and we ourselves are in God.
The first incarnation of God was the creation of the universe, of this cosmos, this planet, this earth, and all that is in it and on it, before, now and to come. God poured God’s love into the world and it became visible.
Jesus as the Son of God, truly human, is the second incarnation of God and you and I are the ongoing evidence of this incarnation, showing the in-dwelling of God in us, in the whole universe as we are in God.
And as Jesus tells his disciples he is going where they cannot come, he instead gives them an extraordinary commandment to support them in these in between times. So, I hope you are listening deeply:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:34-35).
Has your scrim now become lit up? Do you start to see and understand with a shift in awareness, understanding the extraordinary, deep abiding love being offered by Jesus, by God?
Whatever is going on around you and to you, just like the betrayal of Jesus by his companion Judas, his impending death, is not important. God’s love in you and for you, and yours in God is what matters; all else is passing.
In this ‘in-between’ times, let us pause a moment to think about what is happening around us.
In God’s world we are experiencing deep changes and shifts in thinking, behaviours and relationships. Traditional ways of thinking about other countries, peoples, religions and races are being challenged.
Yesterday we elected a new Government which will please and disappoint people, as normal.
In our parish we are saying goodbye to our dear friend and priest as we enter a time of interregnum.
In our own lives, we are always in ‘in between’ times, with illness, relationships, jobs, bereavement, loss and ageing. It doesn’t ever stop. Our scrim may be clear or opaque. Are we open to fresh light being shone into our lives by God?
At this point, it is important to ask ourselves, how do others know God? I think it is through our own response to Jesus. Are you showing this? …’That you have love for one another’ in all your relationships, your actions and decisions, in your behaviours, words and emotional, spiritual responses.
…’That you have love for one another.’
It is no accident Jesus says this, clearly, deliberately, with deep love and understanding, giving his companions this new commandment, immediately after Judas leaves the table to betray him. Jesus is hours away from Peter’s betrayal and being abandoned by many of his companions, leaving him to be tortured and crucified alone.
How do we understand this? How are we able to contemplate such deep betrayal, which we ourselves have done to others and have had done to us by friends, family, our bodies, by life, without God’s love to help us through the darkest hours?
What is your response to such betrayal and hurt? Is it to hurt and betray in return? Do you walk away or take revenge, punish and crucify those you blame?
Jesus’ response to all this was to love. To love so deeply he was prepared to be killed for us. To show us God is in us, with us, and we are in God. We are incarnated in God.
So, as we live into these ‘in between’ times, it is here where our hardest and most essential work must be done if we are to bear witness with integrity and be known as vibrant disciples who ‘have love for one another’.
The hope of God’s ever-expanding salvation story is more visible as we sit in between crucifixion, betrayal, death, resurrection and ascension; in between fear and love, forgiveness, faith and hope.
We are part of God’s body in Jesus; we are incarnations. Here we must put down our egos and selfishness, our own desires for autonomy, glory and power, like Jesus; and like Jesus, we must turn to each other with love, in the spirit of resurrection. We tear down the scrim curtain and see God’s love truly.
We may now pray to God offering opportunities for light to flourish in the darkness, so places and people with discord and disconnection may instead turn towards hope with generosity; and, so the people around us and in the world, will truly know we are Christians by our love.
As the writer of Revelation said:
Then I saw a new heaven and new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more.
See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s peoples, and God will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the first things have passed away.
See I am making all things new.
It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (Rev. 21:1-6)
May the Lord who is making all things new, be with you.