Marten de Vos, The Last Supper
As we come to the close of the Easter season, we culminate with what is called the high-priestly prayer of Jesus. It is one of the rare moments in the gospel that we see Jesus, completely as he is – in his dialogue of love with the Father. That dialogue of love, is of course, the Holy Spirit. It is a very rich passage. Let me just pick on a few of its many themes: truth, unity and the joy of God.
That they may be one like us. Have you ever thought of what an extraordinary promise this is? To realise a communion as like between the Father and the Son, among people. Is that even possible on earth? Yet, we would all in some way, recognise this as our heart’s desire.Think of the people to whom you are closest. It is in the very nature of love to want communion. And also think of the stress and pain that arises from difficult relationships. They are painful, precisely because we are unable be in communion, in harmony with them. This is there in other religious traditions as well. We see something of this communion in good friendships. In a marriage that is lived well, you see this blossom in even greater ways. This is the extraordinary promise that is given to Christian marriage. By the power of the Spirit, you become one flesh with each other. When we understand this, we can make start to make sense of what Jesus means when he prays,
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. To be consecrated, is to be set apart, which is what it means to be holy. Priests are consecrated, set apart so they can come before a holy God. We were all consecrated, or set apart in our baptism. We were set apart from the world, to come to know, love and worship the living God, the God who is holy. But what does it mean to be consecrated in truth? Today, truth, if at all admitted to exist, is reduced to facts. Facts are important. Knowing what temperature water boils at is important for making my tea. But it’s not what gives the greatest meaning to my life (some might disagree). For something to be true is for it to be real – what it really is. The whole world was created in and through the word of God. The whole world and everything in it, reflects the image of God. Aquinas would say, that something therefore is true, in as much as it is how God intended it to be. Things in their truth, in their reality, give praise to God. Which is why the Scriptures speak of all creation constantly praising God.
Ps 104, the great hymn of creation, speaks of how everything, from the mountains and valleys, to cattle, fish and beasts all praise God, finding their life in him. The Psalmist says
“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their spirit, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” Ps 104:27-30
God is the one who holds all creation in existence. These beings, in their existence, even without being conscious, live only in relation to God – because they get their life from him. They praise God continuously, by being true to what they are created to be. In the very next Psalm, the Psalmist turns his attention to Israel, God’s people. Here, he doesn’t say, everyone praises God. He says, remember how God did this for you and that and goes through a long list of God’s works. While creation doesn’t choose to be anything else, human beings can. In our freedom, we can forget that our life comes from God. We, are most like God, reflecting his image, but the terrible power of our freedom is that we can refuse to become everything that we are meant to be in truth. But where can we find this truth of our being?
Jordan Peterson’s Rule 8, in his book, Twelve Rules for Life says, “Tell the truth or at least don’t lie”. Peterson notes that we can’t always know what is true, but we at least have a sense of what it is not. There is something that I sense from my own experience. And often we can choose out of convenience or other reasons to go against it. We can do this out of peer pressure, a particular temptation when you’re in your teens and even later. We want to be accepted, we don’t want to cause offense. We want to please everyone at times. But it is in being true to our search in the small things, that we come to know ourselves. And that would mean being constantly set apart – the wider meaning of being consecrated – there are things that we have to reject as false, so we can embrace the truth. We began speaking about Christian marriage. The promised unity has to be realised, it doesn’t happen overnight. It involves a journey of deeper knowledge of each other. But this is not simply that I know more things about this person I married. It is first and foremost in discovering who I myself am. Strangely, it is only in letting myself be known by another, being loved by another, I can know myself. This is true right from the child who learns who it is from its mother, to friends to the husband and wife who realise this in a new way. And in that space given by another, I have the freedom to change, to become who I am meant to be. Then, true communion becomes possible.
And this also helps us understand what Jesus means by not removing them from the world but to protect them from the Evil One. The Evil One is the one who is completely false to himself and what he was created to be. He is the father of all lies. And the world in that sense is under his power. It is the world of rebellion towards God, like the devil. It is based on competition and games of power. Our value in the world comes from all sorts of factors, what we own, whom we know, what we have achieved, how much we earn. And if the Evil One can get us to draw our identity and value from these things, he doesn’t have to possess or attack anyone, he has already won. None of these contribute to who we really are. Pilate, the epitome of this would ask Jesus this very thing: What is truth? Pilate’s identity came from his power and his position as Caesar’s Friend. Even as he would recognise Jesus’ innocence, he would hand him over to be crucified, afraid of losing his status in the world.
But to be a Christian means that we have been drawn out from this competition. Jesus said, I chose you out of this world (Jn 15:19). What is this choice? It is Christ’s personal love for you and me. Jesus chose each and every one of his apostles. He didn’t stop since then. You and I were chosen as his own, to be his disciples. And that choice is what was revealed in our baptism. That is where we were consecrated, or set apart to come to know, love and worship the living God, the God who is holy. Of all the relationships we can have, the truest of them is the one we have with God himself, the one who knows our inmost being. It is when we come to know his personal love that we can be free to become fully who he knows us to be. This love is of course, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. It is only the Holy Spirit who can make us give us this revelation, and make us holy. And it is in becoming true that we can also come to know him who is Truth itself. In that we find freedom. In that we find the fullness of joy and true union. Let us pray and await the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.