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Select Homily
May, 19 2019

5th Sunday of Easter (C)

Rev. Richard Eslinger

The Meal was coming to an end; only one morsel yet to eat,…and that by Judas.  Jesus had announced that one would betray him, one in the room with him at Table. And the sign would be Jesus’ giving a dipped morsel to that one.  Only the Beloved Disciple noticed that Judas had received the morsel and was dismissed.  “So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.”  The betrayer leaves and it is dark.  Two profound signs of trouble here in the Gospel of St. John.  The betrayer is commanded to do quickly what he will do and he immediately exits the room into the night.  Trouble is coming, and it is coming fast.

What comes next is most confusing.  After Judas had left the others, Jesus speaks words in that room about glory—the Son of Man is glorified and “God is glorified in him.”In fact, Jesus’ words about glory seem to cover every tense you can find in Greek grammar—even time seems to get mixed up in all this glory.  The Son of Man, Jesus announces, “was,”…“is,” “will” have glory and glorify God “at once.”  Time and glory, as one commentator puts it, “swirl” around each other, they “cascade” together.  But here, again, is the problem.  We have little trouble as Christ’s own in ascribing glory to his ministry, his works while it was still day.  We have seen the glory of God in his only Son again and again—his signs at Cana in Galilee, in healing the man born blind, and in raising Lazarus from the dead.  All signs of his glory.  We have heard the Lord disclose himself as living water to the Samaritan Woman, as the bread of life to the crowd in the wilderness, and as resurrection and life to Martha and then to Mary.  Glory.  Jesus, doing the works of the one who sent him “while it is day.”  But now darkness has come and the betrayer has gone out into the night to do quickly what he must do.  So here we are, present with Jesus and the eleven in the Upper Room, our feet washed clean, and expecting to hear a funeral oration spoken by our Lord.  Instead, he speaks of glory—past, future, and even present!  Odd, when you think about it.  Glory in the darkness, too?  We had not been expecting that. 

Our usual experience is the opposite.  To the contrary, we think of “glorious” times as those filled with light and joy.  We see darkness as the opposite of glory; they are incompatible.  I mean, there are some churches that have “celebration services” whenever they gather—most everything, especially the music, is upbeat and filled with happiness.  The theater-style lights shine down on the “stage” and it is as bright as day.  (No darkness there!)  And the praise team sings of God’s glory with everyone clapping along.  But for most of us, really, our “glory-times” are happy, daytime joys.  Some of us remember those summer days of fun and adventure—what glory.  And then there are rich memories of days spent camping or fishing or, you name it.  We link glory with happy days, don’t we?  Of course, for some, those kinds of days seem all in the past, like in the “Happy Days” shows themselves.  Even for some Christians, their church’s happy days seem all in the past.  It is as if most of the light and joy has drained out of their Christian life.  In one church—a large parish that had seen years of membership decline, things began to turn around.  After one liturgy in which young adults were being received into membership, their baptismal vows renewed, the pastor joyfully asked one of the elders of the church about the service.  “I remember when we had three services on Sunday morning and the balcony was filled for each one of them.”  That was his only reply.  Light?  Glory?  All in the past.  Even the light of that Sunday morning could not break through the darkness.  Of course, the disciples are about to enter their time of darkness.  For them, a season of dread and loss and horrible darkness will engulf them.  Light?  All in the past, along with the glory of following Jesus.  Judas departs and it is night.  How could Jesus now speak of glory?  Better to reminisce about the happy days now just a memory. 

And to make things brutally clear, Jesus now turns to the eleven and says, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer.”  There, that settles it.  It is night.  But even more oddly, the Lord now talks about a new commandment, the one that gives Maundy Thursday its name.  “Love one another,” Jesus teaches.  “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  What a strange time to be speaking about love.  First, glory and now love.  Stranger yet.  And once again, our usual approach to things is opposite what our Lord commands.  Look, we find it easy to love each other as Christian people when most everything is going okay.  Did you ever look at those photographs some churches have on display of some past glory times?  One recurring photo is of the wonderful day the new church building was dedicated.  Everyone is gathered in front of the church, proud and smiling.  No question that there is a lot of love shared among parishioners, between pastor and parish.  Happy times with lots of love.  Then things change.  Disagreements bubble up in the parish over liturgical style and music.  The “worship wars” begin.  Or the fight may be over decisions about a parish’s mission.  And the polarized politics of our nation may come to infect Christ’s Body, and divide it.  Then, many parishes have had to hear the news that they needed to merger with another parish—with people they don’t even know.  (The homilist is urged to make this example systems as concrete to the lived experience of the listeners as possible.)  Now, it’s much harder to follow this new commandment.  Here Jesus tells the disciples that he will be with them only a little longer, and he adds this commandment that they love one another as he has loved them.  These are hard words.  Especially when Judas has left them and it is night. 

But remember all that swirl of tenses Jesus used when he spoke about glory?  The past and the present of glory in Christ?  Then Jesus concluded that “God will also glorify (the Son of Man) in himself.”  “So early in the morning, while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and finds the stone rolled away.  Later, as the light grows on Easter morning, the Risen Lord speaks her name and she is overcome with love and joy.  Christ is alive!  It is day and filled with glory!  “Love is come again,” sings an Easter hymn, “like wheat that springeth green.”  Maybe that is why we have this Maundy Thursday Gospel lection right here in the middle of the glory of the Great Fifty Days.  Here is the reminder that the love and glory of Christ do not leave us when the darkness comes.  Not at all.  Even the darkness of Good Friday could not overcome the glory of the One who in the Paschal Mystery is lifted up on the Cross and lifted up to new and everlasting life.  God has glorified the Son of Man, and will,…at once!  What love.  What glory.  St. John spoke the truth—“ the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  And it never will overcome the light that is revealed in the glory of Jesus Christ.  Glory and love, shining always in the darkness. 

Now comes an ending of sorts.  But like much else in the Gospel of John, it’s an ending that involves new beginnings.  The Lord concludes to the eleven, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  Do you notice the shift here?  Yes, the little community is to love each other as Jesus loves them.  But there is another issue now in play.  They are to love each other so that “all” may know they are his disciples.  That is, all of those out there in the world; all of those who remain in darkness.  All of those who need that living water and bread of life.  The outcome of this love we are to share in Christ’s new commandment is a love we are to take into the world so that the world might believe.  No sentimental love stuff here, but the real thing, the self-giving, and sacrificial love that our Lord has for us.  So the Holy Meal is followed by the ritual of foot washing, where our Lord shows us what this love is like, demonstrates it to us.  Then, did you notice?  There are two dismissals from this Eucharistic Meal.  First Judas is dismissed to do quickly what he is going to do.  Then, we are dismissed to do the work of servants and evangelists out in the world that remains so much one of darkness.  We will first be fed by the One who is resurrection and life with the bread come down from heaven.  Then, with the eleven, we are dismissed to show all that we are his disciples.  Glory?  Here it is, right when things may seem darkest.  Love?  It swirls and cascades with glory, if we have love for one another.

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