RISEN, ASCENDED, GLORIFIED!
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY MAY 17th 2009
John 15: 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love”.
I am very grateful that my doctor has an interesting array of magazines to read in the waiting room – for during the week I was sitting in his waiting room and reading an interesting article on a religious subject. The writer stated that Saint Mark’s Gospel he has no reference to Jesus talking about love.
Now I have to admit I did not comprehend this before, so I will believe him. That being the case, we would have to say that Saint John more than makes up for any lack in Saint Mark’s Gospel. Saint John goes on and on about love! We heard it last week in John 14, and again this week in John 15 – lots of things about love from the words of Jesus.
Today’s Gospel (John 15: 9-17) continues on from last week’s, when Jesus talked about love and commandments. Today the Gospel talks about abiding in Jesus’ love, just as Jesus abides in the Father’s love.
I rather like the word “abide“. A more modern translation would be “remain” – but “abide” has a deeper, more spiritual connotation. Jesus, having said that we should abide in his love, then has that great statement: “Greater love hath no man, than a man lay down his life for his friends”. The implication is obvious – Jesus shows his love by dying on the cross, by giving up his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Jesus then goes on to say: “you are my friends if you do what I command you”. So we come back to last week’s theme of loving God and doing his commandments. Today we have a promise that when we do this – when we follow the commandments of God and try to love God and our neighbour – that God comes and abides in us.
It’s a wonderful circle going from last week to this week. Similarly, like last week, today’s Epistle (1 John 4: 7-21) also encapsulates the Gospel. Today we have the Epistle of 1 John 4, and last week 1 John 3. Last week’s Epistle explained in a broader way what Jesus said in the Gospel – and this week the same thing again. Last week 1 John 3, and the Gospel of John 14 – today 1 John 4, and the Gospel of John 15.
In fact if you look at today’s Epistle reading you will find the word “Love” is mentioned 25 times and the word “Abide” mentioned 5 times. So there is no doubt that the Epistle is explaining and expanding on the Gospel reading – though it was written long after the Gospel.
In today’s Epistle we find the word “Abide” is written in connection with “Love”, like we find in the Gospel. “If you love one another, God abides in you”.
We also find a wonderful underlining of the Gospel’s great declaration: “God so loved the world”. For in his Epistle Saint John writes: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us – and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins”. So there it is again – God loved us and sent his Son to be the sacrifice for sin.
“Greater love hath no man, than a man lay down his life for his friends”.
The danger of all this talk about “Love” is that in today’s world it will be equated with feelings, with romance, with being happy. That’s not what Saint John is telling us. He is saying that God’s love is an action – an action of sacrifice. God’s love, in fact, is an event. It’s not just warm feelings and doing something loving – it is an event.
God sent his Son to be the sacrifice for sin, He achieved that on the Cross, and he subsequently rose from the dead on Easter Day, then he ascended into heaven, where he now reigns in glory. This is what some people call the “Christ event”. And it is an event in which God shows his love.
The love of God made manifest in Christ Jesus Our Lord is revealed on the Cross, culminates in the Resurrection, and is fulfilled in the Ascension. On Ascension Day we see a continuous event proclaiming God’s love in Christ.
This event of God’s love is the key to the word “Abide”. Because Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and now reigns there in glory, so his love becomes a reality for men and women ever since – by us uniting spiritually to that event.
Through his victory we can abide in his love…for both the practical and the spiritual dimensions of our lives. But, having said all that, how do we abide? Well, of course, for Christians we abide in God’s love continually through the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist.
Here at the altar we are able to share in Christ’s life because he is risen, ascended, and glorified. Because he has gone to heaven and reigns there in glory, he is able to come to us time and again through the simple, incredible means of the sacrament of the altar. Here Sunday by Sunday, and during the week, we partake of his divine life so that we might abide in his love.
This interconnection between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and the Eucharist and Holy Communion is expressed beautifully in the hymn, “Lord enthroned in Heavenly Splendour”. This hymn was written by a priest of the Church of England, the Reverend George Bourne who died in 1925.
Fr. George Bourne had an interesting career including missionary work in South Africa, and concluding with being sub-dean of Salisbury Cathedral in the south of England. He wrote several communion hymns, of which this one is the most well-known and popular.
Although it is not in the American 1940 hymnal, it is in the 1982 hymnal – though there it is set to a more rousing tune which some like, and others find difficult. We sing it to the great English tune which is much more majestic, “St Helen”, written by George Martin, sub-organist of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.
I would like us to reflect on this hymn for a moment. The hymns we sing often contain great spiritual treasures that can become part of our daily prayers and worship. The opening line immediately evokes the Resurrection: “Lord enthroned in Heavenly Splendour, first begotten from the dead”. This comes from Revelation 1:5, where Christ is described as being the first-begotten from the dead. Thus the hymn begins with an image of Christ reigning in glory, as portrayed in the Book of Revelation. This first verse connects with the Eucharist by its final line: “Jesus, true and living Bread” – a direct reference to John 6.
When we come to the second verse, Fr Bourne takes us to the mystery of the Eucharist and the Real Presence: “Here our humblest homage pay we…here for faith’s discernment pray we, lest we fail to know thee now”. The mystery of the Eucharist defies human logic and reasoning, but Bourne is anxious that, even though we may not fully understand, we do worship lest we fail to know him present.
The third verse continues the mystery of Christ present in Holy Communion: “Though the lowliest form doth veil thee” – a direct reference to Christ being veiled in bread and wine. Then he moves quite logically to the Incarnation: “As of old in Bethlehem”. In other words, just as Jesus was revealed as the Son of God in the lowly scene of the manger in Bethlehem, so in the lowly forms of bread and wine he is once again born and reveals himself. And to underline the point of the Incarnation, he refers to Jesus as the “branch and flower of Jesse’s stem”.
Having established us at the Incarnation, verse four takes us to Easter. “Paschal Lamb, thine offering finished once for all”. It brings in all those images of the Paschal Lamb offered for the Jews, and, as Revelation 5 says, the Lamb once slain is now glorified in heaven. And his sacrifice, says Bourne, “shall for evermore remain”.
So to the final verse, in which Bourne explains how this sacrifice will for evermore remain. He brings in the Passover images of the Manna from Heaven, and the Water from the Rock – those things that nourished and sustained the Israelites through their 40 years in the wilderness as they journeyed to the Promised Land.
Christ is that “life imparting heavenly manna”, the “stricken Rock, with steaming side” who comes to us in the Eucharist – where we find the Bread of Heaven and the cup of salvation. And so this last verse reminds us that at every Eucharist, “Heaven and earth with loud Hosanna, worship thee, the Lamb who died”.
As the final stroke of genius, Bourne brings us back full circle as the hymn acclaims Christ in glory: “Alleluia! Alleluia! Risen, Ascended, Glorified!”.
You could do well to relect on this hymn in your devotions during the week, and sing it with great gusto at the end of our Mass today – for it is through our risen, ascended, glorified Lord, coming to us in this holy sacrament that we are able to continually abide in his love.