The gospel reading for today’s Mass is taken from St John’s Gospel.
The passage comes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. In that time, before his arrest and agony, his concern is for his ‘little flock’, for their security and well being.
We hear the words today, not in Passiontide, but during the season of Easter, in the latter days of the season, shortly before the feast of the Ascension, and before Pentecost. And we are reminded of the abiding presence of the Risen Lord, and that of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.
I shall ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you for ever,
that Spirit of truth
whom the world can never receive
since it neither sees nor knows him;
but you know him,
because he is with you, he is in you.
I will not leave you orphans;
I will come back to you.
In a short time the world will no longer see me;
but you will see me,
because I live and you will live.
On that day you will understand that I am in my Father
and you in me and I in you.
Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’
The Gospel promises that the communion of life between Jesus and the disciples will be sustained, despite the separation effected by the Passion and Death of Jesus, and then, later, the Ascension.
That promise, which is fundamentally rooted in the love of God for all humankind, and for all Creation. We are never alone – always there is accompaniment in the love and mercy of God.
Yet the experience of being alone, of feeling abandoned, alone and afraid is a common one. It is an experience that especially informed the writings and thinking of the Existentialists in the 20th Century.
One particularly harrowing poem from an earlier age, but which witnesses to some of the same themes, is A E Houseman’s poem ‘The Laws of God, the Laws of Men’
The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.
The one whose voice we hear in the poem (Houseman himself, perhaps) is ‘a stranger and afraid’. To survive in what he experiences as hostile and alien he resigns himself to conformity and, arguably, ‘bad faith’. Consider the agony of that.
Jesus offers something different, the Spirit who overcomes fear and separation and reverses experiences of alienation. His promise is that, even in this world, where we can feel ourselves alone and away from love, away from God, the one who seeks to love God and neighbour, will find God with them.
In the intimacy of God, Father, Son and Spirit, we are to find our home now and for ever.
What a message of hope we have to share with those who find themselves homeless, loveless, and afraid.
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