Jesus sent out the disciples for their first mission journey (10:5) with instructions about its shape and difficulties. In 10:8 he described the effect that their mission would have on others. They would cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. In verses 16-23 Jesus made clear that those who would not receive the disciples would persecute them. For these difficult circumstances, Jesus gave the disciples five reassurances: 1. God would be with them as they made their witness; 2. The Son of Man would come before they preached to every town, so they could flee a town if persecution came; 3. Those who are members of the Father’s family will be brought to salvation, even when other families betray each other to death; 4. Since the Son of God, their teacher and master, would be persecuted, they were not to hope to avoid persecution; And, 5. They were to fear only the one who can bless and damn. Enemies of the Gospel can persecute believers only within limits set by our heavenly Father. Because He is in charge of our lives, we need not be afraid of those who oppose us because we confess Christ.
Jesus compassion for the “shepherdless” calls us to bring to the lost, forgotten and marginalized; those on the “periphery”). Today’s Gospel reaffirms our responsibility as disciples of Jesus to welcome rather than condemn, to lift up rather than judge those who have not heard the voice of the shepherd, to seek reconciliation with those from whom we are estranged or separated for whatever reason. Every one of us, in our struggle to make sense out of life, seeks absolutes by which to guide our decisions, formulas to determine what is fair and good, yardsticks to judge success and failure. Masters and gurus, saviors and deliverers, parties and movements of every stripe preach to their followers how to secure fortunes but not how to live, how to feel better but not how to cure what afflicts, how to conquer one’s enemies but not how to live lives of justice and peace. Christ the “shepherd” walks with us on our life’s journey through hurt and change and maturity and wholeness to the dwelling place of God. The defining mark of discipleship is the recognition that we are both called and freed in baptism to bring healing to the broken, comfort to the afflicted, hope to the despairing. In his first “organizational meeting” of the Twelve, Jesus commissions them to take on the work of healing, restoring, reconciling. As God humbled himself to become one of us and be part of our lives, we are called to the same humility in order to bring the compassion and forgiveness of God to the poor, the needy, the helplessly and hopelessly “dead,” the alienated, the rejected and the abused.
After the completion of his work of death and resurrection, Jesus goes before the eleven to Galilee. It is from Galilee that he sends the disciples out to the nations with the Great Commission. So this Gospel appropriately follows the message of Pentecost with its story of the gift of the Spirit to empower the twelve Apostles to carry the gospel to the world. The very name apostle means one who is "sent out." Here the apostles are commissioned by Jesus himself to do his work. Baptism is the means that Jesus institutes for bringing those who had not seen him to share his life. From the very beginning, as a response to the resurrection appearances, the young church began to baptize immediately following Pentecost. In Acts 2:38, for example, baptisms are celebrated "in the name of Jesus Christ." The baptismal phrase "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is less a liturgical formula repeated to make a Baptism valid than it is a description of what Baptism accomplished. A person is baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and was thus incorporated into the fullness of this new life. A new relationship has been established. So the church honors Baptism as the beginning of Christian life; one's own entrance into the church. Baptism is the way that those of us who have not seen Jesus are enabled to share his life. What is celebrated today is not the doctrine of the Trinity, but the nature and mystery of God. If we understand the day properly, we shall be "lost in wonder, love, and praise." Wonder is the presence of God the Creator; love is the presence of God the Redeemer, who loved us and showed us what love is; and, praise inspired by the Spirit, without whom no one can say "Jesus is Lord." The Spirit brings believers to faith in Jesus as the one in whom God acted for us. By proclaiming the gospel, the church offers everyone a means of being a child of God and sharing in a life which is directed and given power by the Spirit, who leads us to acknowledge God as Father and as Savior. Read the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism: "I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit called me…" The church's ministry is the direct, unbroken continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ, in whom the whole work of God comes to a focus.
It is not easy to answer the question, who is the Holy Spirit? We seldom ask, who is the Holy Spirit?—and that tells us something about our understanding of the Spirit. The Spirit is usually associated with something rather vague, unseen, unfelt. Our minds, it seems, are unable to connect the Spirit with anything but unreality. God the Father is not hard for us to understand and even to picture; we know what a father is like. God the Son is easier to picture. We have thousands of representations of Jesus Christ the man from Nazareth, as a baby, as a man, teaching, healing, praying, suffering, dying, rising, reigning. But the Spirit is a challenge. How do you portray a Spirit? As a bird perhaps, but that is obviously little more than a simple illustration. We describe “who” the Holy Spirit is by describing what he does. The primary work of the Holy Spirit is that he calls us to the Gospel; gathers us in Christian community; enlightens us to the work of the Triune God; makes us holy (set aside) for Christ’s mission of reconciliation; and, preserves our faith in Christ throughout our earthly pilgrimage.
Like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as reported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this prayer is Jesus’ own meditation on his dying. For Jesus, his death was his moment of glorification. Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus spoke of his glory as the climax of the mission to which he dedicated himself from the beginning. It was the work that was completed and sealed at the cross. Thus, the cross was not the awful low point of the ministry of Jesus. It was not the triumph of his enemies. IT was not a momentary lapse of failure on his own part. The cross was Jesus’ hour. By dying in accord with God’s plan, Jesus was obedient to God just as we are not. He was not defeated by the world, but died for the sake of the world. Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one. It is often thought that Jesus prayed that his disciples would be united with each other, but Jesus prayed that they would be one with God as he himself was. He prayed that the world with its dark attractions would have no hold on them, that they might know God and live in God so deeply that they may be described as one with God, just as he was one with God.
Today's Gospel continues the themes of absence and presence, addressing the disciples' sense of being abandoned like orphans (v.18) because Jesus withdrew from the visible fellowship of his earthly ministry into the invisibility of his exalted life. What is new this week is especially the mention of the "Advocate" (v. 16), sometimes called "Paraclete" or "Counselor" in other Bible translations. The best way to understand the Advocate is to read the five "Advocate passages" (14:15-17,26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11, 13-15) asking how they describe the work of the Advocate. The Advocate has the closest possible connection with Jesus and may be described as Jesus' spirit or as the power of God making the resurrected Jesus present to believers. "Orphaned" is not a word that most of us use very often--but it is a word that is a powerful one, nevertheless. To be orphaned is to be alone, on one's own, to be deserted--and that can happen as a child or as an adult surrounded by others. One can even be orphaned in one's own family, lonely and estranged from others, grieved by the loss of a loved one, a forgotten old person, angered, despondent, depressed, caught up in a web of problems--some real, many imagined. We have all experienced loneliness or estrangement or desolation to some degree or another. We have all asked at one time or another, "Where is God in all of this puzzling life?" "Why is he not with us?" Jesus knew that his followers would be troubled when his life and work came to an end in world history. but he also knew that his revelation of God's love and mercy would never come to an end. He promised, "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you." In John's Gospel, that means that at Jesus' request God the Father would give another Counselor to be with his people forever, the Spirit of truth. The Spirit taught those early Christians all things and brought to their remembrance all that Jesus had said to his followers. As the Spirit did it then, the Spirit continues to do so now. Neither they nor we are alone. The Spirit of the risen Christ still brings to our remembrance the message of Easter. And this Easter message is put in an interesting and memorable way in our Gospel for today; "Because I live, you will live also." The Counselor, the Spirit of God, brings us life as only God can give it. Rich, full life, knowledge of what life is truly all about is the ongoing gift of the Spirit--life where we work, where we play, where we go to school, where we eat and sleep, where we live. The Gospel says that there is no room for desolation! The Spirit of truth comes engulfing us in the love of God, and enabling us in turn, in the Spirit of truth, to love as we have first been loved. We can thank God that the Counselor is with us forever, that instead of being left orphaned, desolate, and alone, we can come together as the body of Christ, knowing that because the risen Christ lives, we live also. That is our Easter Good News!
The opening words of Jesus about the "Father's house" and "dwelling places" stand as the theme of the text. In the rest of the chapter, Jesus meditated on the images in that opening statement and he offered fresh ways of thinking about our dwelling with God and God's dwelling with us. This talk was all the more relevant since Jesus was about to leave his disciples. John 14 is part of Jesus' farewell discourse (13:31-17:26). These words were spoken at the table during Jesus' final night. He would rise from the table, cross the Kidron valley to the garden on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, and be arrested. When we see him no longer, where is he and what is he doing? After his death and resurrection, Jesus is not simply absent. He is in fact more fully present than ever before, as a powerful fact in the lives of his disciples. A person's dying words are often of great importance to those he leaves behind. Jesus is alone with his disciples and in these intimate, last moments, he opens his heart to them and reveals to them some things that, until now, he had not told them. After the declaration that there is room for all in his Father's house, Jesus makes a startling statement. He claims that he is the way that is truth and life (John 14:6). These words raise the mission of Jesus and his followers to a new level. It is Jesus, in person, who is the Way that leads truly to life. The Christian Community does not and can never replace this Way. The community can only offer different means to help the individual to follow Jesus, the Way. The Way is really unique for each person and all are walking on it in their own rhythm and according to their own understanding. The Christian Community, the church, has helped generations of disciples of Jesus to follow Jesus better. However, she does not pretend to be the end herself. The increase or decrease of members in a Christian community cannot be the sole aim of their activity, and neither can it always be the measure of their financial success or failure. In the end it is all God's work, done by and through Jesus.
The account of the journey of Cleopas and another disciple to Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most popular and dramatic stories of the Gospel of Luke. It is found only in Luke. The disciples are discouraged by what has happened and in their disappointment they set out on a journey. A stranger joins them. Gradually he helps them to understand, in the light of the Scriptures, the meaning of the events they have witnessed. The breaking of the bread by the Stranger allows them to see that Jesus has really risen. The news is so good that they feel they must share it with the other disciples. There is no time to waste. From being sad and disillusioned they become joyful enthusiastic missionaries of the risen Lord. They journey of the two disciples on the way to and from Emmaus helps us enter an early celebration of worship. Their conversation on the road is like the Liturgy of the Word in which they confronted their understanding of the Messiah with God’s (Luke 24:16-27). Then came the Liturgy of the Holy Communion as they broke bread with the Stranger (Luke 24:28-30). It is the combination of both Word and Sacrament that opened their eyes. We begin to understand that it is not a story about Cleopas and the other disciple but is our own story. We all have different images of God and would like God to fit into those images. Some people become disillusioned with God when he does not intervene in history. The Word of God challenges our human expectations. It helps us to come to a better understanding of who God truly is and how he does intervene in human history. When we share in his Word and are nourished by Jesus in the Sacraments, he will gradually bring his light into our lives and into the world around us. When God gives us his light he always pushes us to share with others what we have experienced.
The Gospel for this Sunday tells of two experiences of the risen Christ. The first is to the disciples without Thomas present (20:19-23) and the second to Thomas and the other disciples (20:24-29). The risen Christ came to the disciples amid their fear of the hostility directed toward them and Jesus. He immediately offered them “peace” (20:19). Then, after showing them evidence that he was their crucified Lord, he announced their mission (20:21). They were sent forth with the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive and retain sins (20:22-23). Thomas found the report of the others unbelievable and so the risen Christ appeared a second time, now in the midst of an experience of doubt. He offered Thomas the evidence he demanded (20:25,27) and urged him to believe. Thomas’ confession is the climax of John’s entire gospel: “My Lord and my God” (20:28). The Gospel closes with the purpose of the entire book of John—that the readers may believe and receive the gift of eternal life. Once again, we are reminded that our faith is not based on “proof,” but on listening to the Word of the Risen One, who speaks to us.
The Easter Sunday Gospel recounts how Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty. When she told the apostles, Peter and the beloved disciple (John) felt a deep desire to see for themselves what had happened. They ran to the tomb and found the cloth in which Jesus had been buried, nicely folded away to indicate that his body has not been robbed. The beloved disciple believed that was a sign that Jesus is truly risen. The “Beloved” disciple’s journey with Jesus is marked by his deep love for his master and friend. It is this love that helped him to recognize that the body of Jesus had not been taken away, but had risen to a totally new life. Every disciple of Jesus is called to relate to him in a similar way. As long as Jesus remains jus an ideal for the disciples there will be the danger to follow him only in thought and theory. Only when Jesus becomes a loved one, will there be a desire to really act as he would have done. Discipleship of Jesus is more a matter of heart than the head; A matter of Faith, more than of thought.