The following is my reflection from this past Sunday’s Evensong service.
Hear these words from Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk whose sage words on the spiritual life posthumously became a book titled The Practice of the Presence of God:
He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.
In these words, Lawrence has given us many ways we can remind ourselves of God’s presence, but at the heart of all his practical advice are these words, “He is nearer to us than we think.”
Likewise, the heart of today’s reflection is the grand metaphysical claim that God is with us, “is nearer to us than we think.” In today’s lectionary in Joel, we hear of a time when God’s presence will always be with Israel, and by his presence Israel will be kept from shame. In the reading from Acts we hear how the people of Lystra had come to believe that the god’s had come to be with them in the persons of Paul and Barnabas, and though they we wrong, their belief about Paul and Barnabas expressed a legitimate longing: that God should live with humanity. In the Psalms it is proclaimed that the nations will know of God’s saving work, a knowledge that can only happen when God is present. And now, turning to today’s Gospel reading we will also see that the presence of God is the backdrop of this passage.
Today’s Gospel is essentially Jesus’ response to a disciple who asked him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” As is often the case with Jesus, his response seemed to dodge the question, and if I was that disciple I would have been thinking, “Hold on, I didn’t ask you ‘How will you know I love you?’ I asked you, ‘How will you reveal yourself to me?’” As is also often the case, upon further inspection we find that Jesus was responding to the question, but not in a manner that we expect.
Before I continue, I want to share that when I first read this passage I was disturbed by how Jesus response connected a disciple’s love to a disciple’s keeping of Jesus word, and to compound the matter he further connected the love of the Father to a disciple’s keeping of Jesus’ word. In short, these series of connections induced anxiety, and seemed to me like an aweful invitation to somehow prove myself, and perform for the Father’s love. So, in response, I cried out, and I let my anxiety be known. I prayed, read commentaries, and wrote, and I prayed and wrote some more, as I have come to find that often when I write clarity happens.
As I said, in Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question, he made a connection between love and keeping Jesus’ word, but as I have come to see it, this keeping is not so much a disciple’s efforts hang on to Jesus’ words, or worse, live up to them, but rather to live within them. In other words, Jesus is saying that the one who abides in his word is the one who loves him. This idea is reinforced when Jesus states that he and the Father will abide with those who keep Jesus’ word. In this passage it seems that the author, John, is developing his meaning through the use of a parallel. On the one hand those who abide in Jesus’ word are the ones who love him, and on the other hand those who abide in Jesus’ word are the ones with whom Jesus and the Father will abide. The word “abiding” has the connotation of a place in which one remains, and in which one becomes familiar: relationally intimate. Given the original audience, this word “abide” is important, as it would have evoked the Temple, the dwelling place of God. So, perhaps what Jesus is saying here is that those who love him will temple themselves in his word, and they will temple themselves in his word because they will find his word to be a temple of God’s presence where they come to know the life and love of God.
At this point in my reflection, you may have noticed that I have not yet mentioned the passage from Revelation. I did this because of all the passages this passage is the clear climax of today’s lectionary. Prior to the verses we read today, an angel takes John to see the Bride of Christ, who is none less than the heavenly Jerusalem, where, as we see in the passages we did read, there is no temple for the presence of the Lord will be the temple, and the glory of his presence will be light of the Bride, the heavenly Jerusalem. In the overarching narrative of Scripture, the thing to realize about this heavenly Jerusalem and the presence of God, is that it is a reality we come to participate in now. Moreover, as John makes clear in many ways, the glory of God, which is the light of God’s people, is the Lamb crucified. The glory of God is God sacrificially pouring himself out through the Son to become the very light and life of his people. It is this self-sacrificing, out-pouring glory that animates the Word of Christ in which we abide, and why we are called to temple in his words.