“l live and you will live”. John 14:19
Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. They are fearful that religious life will not be normal from then on. The Shepherd will be gone and the sheep scattered. No public gatherings, no miracles, no big preaching events, no social contacts. The disciples keep asking themselves what will it be like when Jesus has gone. Will a Covid-like closing down take place? As we look around us in modern Ireland we could ask the same questions because for many Jesus is absent. Jesus asks them and us not to be troubled: “I will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to instruct and to comfort; I will be present in a new way though the world will think me absent; I live forever and you will live to share my life and love. You will be able to live in love when you keep my commandments”. Jesus makes these assertions in a matter of fact tone and leaves his listeners to makes sense of his startling promises. Let’s look for signs of the Holy Spirit. There are signs of hope.
Today many have begun to think more about spiritual values after a failed experience with materialism. For instance, Steve Jobs was a very successful inventor and businessman. At the end of his days he wrote about what really mattered in a final letter to his friends. He said that many in our world believe only in a self-constructed earthly paradise. Their vision is limited to what they can feel, enjoy and acquire. Success for them means being more powerful than others, having more money, being well connected, avoiding hardship of any kind. He measured success economically by how much he had, by the ways he could manipulate trade to suit his interests, by acquisition, by outwitting opponents, even by ruthlessness. But now he realised that the spiritual gifts of family and friendship are much more valuable, good in themselves. Perhaps in this end-of-life letter Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit of truth to keep us right about what is important, namely love of God and neighbour. Those spiritual values bring a sense of comfort and purpose in tough times. Listen to the Spirit of God inside and recognise that trusting in the Father God who loves us is an eternal blessing and the daily practice of kindly living with friends and family is what it’s all about.
Covid has meant that public sacramental worship is not available in our churches but is Jesus not present in the sense that he makes us re-evaluate what our practice means? Notice how the sense of the sacred is strong. Many are taking time to admire the wonders of creation; the blessing of being in a sacred place is more appreciated when it is removed from us. Let’s continue to pray for the faithful departed with even greater attentiveness because now we have found how many long for the consolation of knowing that others care for them and remember their deceased relatives at a time of bereavement. Talking to an empty Church and addressing a virtual congregation remind me that Jesus is gone from sight but in the Spirit he is still here and happily depends on me and others for continuing his work. As he said, “the Spirit of truth is with you, he is in you”.
What does Jesus mean by the promise, “I live and you will live”? He encourages those who feel lonely and deserted to think beyond this world or better to see into the depths of our experience when depression lurks. That mood of loss and melancholy is caught in the Abba song Like an angel passing through my room. Sissel sings about familiar contacts being lost, about love coming to an end leaving only dying embers in the gloom. It’s a deep-felt expression of regret and truthfully expresses in music what we all feel from time to time. Jesus fully understands and in the gospel points to the way beyond despair or doleful resignation. Jesus comes into the empty room of our hearts to assure us that he is alive forever and that everyone alive or dead, healthy or sick, can join him in a new way of living based on faith. God his Father has an eternal plan for us and still works through Jesus here on earth.
We are invited to explore how faith in the word of God brings love and understanding into the home. Faith in his living presence challenges families confined at home by Covid to be creative and to realise that human existence is always about making things right between brothers and sisters, always about bringing generations together in new ways, always about seeing Jesus in darkness and light. In practice his words ring true. When people are forced out of the comfort zone by Covid they have found ingenious ways of making contact, of being creative and inventive. Are these not signs of living in love? Facing Covid we have learnt how life itself is a blessing, that we are really inter-dependent and that the least powerful can be the most vital to the health of society. To be caring as Jesus asks is actually the best way to live! Being deprived has taught many to appreciate the simple life. Keeping his commandments enriches our minds and energises whatever we do. Best of all, to love as he loves us is to find him by our side.
Ask the Spirit of God to breathe mysteriously into your soul to comfort you and to help you bring comfort; to respect sacred spaces in the surrounding environment and in Church; to live in love with Jesus as a life-giving companion. He lives and you will live!