Sixth Sunday of Easter

When Jesus departs from his disciples, there will be significant changes and this text makes a promise that despite this fact the disciples will not be left alone.

Gustav Klimt, Nine Drawings for the Execution of a Frieze
Gustav Klimt, Nine Drawings for the Execution of a Frieze..., MAK (Museum of Applied Arts), Vienna. Image by Kotomi_ via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

May 5, 2013

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Commentary on John 14:23-29

When Jesus departs from his disciples, there will be significant changes and this text makes a promise that despite this fact the disciples will not be left alone.

This is a promise that surely made a huge difference to those for whom Jesus’ departure is both immanent and potentially confusing.

Part of that preparation included making sure all knew what was expected his followers. Jesus states that loving him means obeying his teachings (verse 23). As a result of this obedience, “My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (verse 23). What an astonishing promise of presence.

However, we live in a world where people are more technologically connected than ever before, but many seem to still be lonely. They are isolated physically and perhaps connected in trans-dimensional modes of connection. But many are not pulled out of the isolation by electronic means. Feeling alone can be a profoundly difficult thing to experience. And this is what the disciples are likely to fear most: isolation from their teacher and friend. All that they have done has been about being part of Jesus’ life and journey. But Jesus’ promises mean that they will not be alone.

Preparing for His Absence
Jesus has, on several occasions, been preparing the disciples for his departure; he has not kept them in the dark about this fact (verse 28). But knowing he will be leaving them soon and understanding what that meant for them personally were probably two different things. 

Into this reality of impending absence comes the Spirit, the Advocate, sent by God in Jesus’ name to be present with the followers of Jesus (verse 26). This is the first time we read about this presence as the Holy Spirit. The Advocate is a presence the disciples will need in order to love as they are called to love. It will, as Jesus promises, be as if he is still with them. Additionally, the Spirit will serve as their teacher in Jesus’ absence (verse 26). Jesus as teacher has been a profound presence in the Gospel message and continuing this teaching — his teaching — will be the Advocate’s role.

Having a teacher who makes a difference in your life is an important thing. Countless stories have been told of teachers making an impact on a young person’s life in ways that turned them around or helped them fulfill their potential in profound ways. Mine was my mom who spent hours with me trying to overcome some serious learning issues I was having in school as a child. She was my champion and my teacher. She made the path I am on today possible. And I never felt alone on that journey. She was with me through it all.

Now, clearly she is not on the level of Jesus as teacher and mentor, but all of us need someone present “in our corner” to embody the Teacher who leads us to be our fullest selves. Jesus did that for the disciples. He taught them in ways that lead them to leave their previous lives to follow him in ministry and to change the world in so many ways.

One of the profound moments in this passage comes in verse 27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Peace is a commodity we sorely need in our world and is absent for far too many. But into this discourse about absence, Jesus reassures the disciples, who were rightly feeling fear about his departure, that they will not be left alone and bestows peace on them.

However, he does more than gently wish them peaceful lives — he gives them peace (verse 27). This is not a wish. This is a gift. It is a gift of profound importance at this moment in the journey of Jesus and the disciples. He must have known the turmoil they would face when he was gone and he does all he can to prepare them for the next part of the journey. Peace is an important element of John’s gospel (along with love that has been examined in the previous weeks’ lectionary readings). And like love, peace is a mark of true discipleship that is required of the disciples — then and now.

This is not a passive peace. It is an active working toward peace in multiple situations. This Spirit and peace will propel the disciples and later the church into active discipleship and mission. The presence of this peace reminds me of one of my favorite quotes in life: “breathe in peace, breathe out love.” It is with the presence of this peace, given by God in Jesus’ name, which enables the disciples and us to live lives of faithfulness (verse 26).

In this context, we can rightly imagine that peace is not something the disciples are feeling. They have travelled the highways and byways with Jesus as he healed, taught, and changed the world. Now in his impending absence he leaves them what they need to continue this work.

Part of the amazing reassurance comes in verse 28: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Jesus boldly proclaims that he is not just going away from them — he is going to the Father. And those who know him, who have walked the roads and have been on this journey with him, know that this is what he was meant to do.

Into this moment we are called to preach a word about peace and presence. After this discourse, Jesus intended for the disciples to feel his peace and presence always — through the Spirit, in the continued teaching to come, and in the connectedness of the community of believers.