This passage from John is considered part of the Farewell Discourses. It is one of the conversations that Jesus has with the Disciples on Maundy Thursday actually. So why are we hearing it again in Easter?
This is the Season when we are reading about the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. Some say Acts should be called "the Acts of the Holy Spirit" because it is the Spirit that lives through the early church …and continues to today. This is Resurrection Life.
The martyring of Steven is a grisly story that mirrors the Crucifixion of Jesus.
The early Christian Community in the Book of Acts is described as having singleness of heart. They shared their possessions - and their works were aligned with their beliefs.
The community of followers was growing, but also the way of life for the larger community at the time was being threatened on many fronts; Roman occupation, unfair taxation, different ideas. The community was not just in disagreement, but afraid and so angry that they want after Stephen as a mob.
Stephen is executed illegally for his beliefs, stoned to death by an angry mob. He was not given a hearing. The intolerance was real and it had devastating consequences. It fits with us in Easter because it is a story of the early church, but it also mirrors Jesus’s crucifixion. Stephen even repeats Jesus’s words…”While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Sound familiar?] Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he said this he died [Sound Familiar?].
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus says “forgive them father for they know not what they do”… and… “into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
The book of Acts reveals the Holy Spirit moving through the early church. We see it in Stephen.
The Spirit that Jesus gave them.
The Spirit of Peace
The Spirit with the power to forgive.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Jesus says that in his father’s house there are many dwellings. I believe forgiveness is a key to these dwellings spaces.
This passage is often read at funerals, but Jesus is not just speaking of death, but of life, and not just some far off idea of life eternal, but life eternal in the now. It is very intimate and real. It is life and life lived abundantly, it is active.
It is following in the footsteps (as the collect says)…and using "the Gate” (as Jesus says).
Do you remember last week: Jesus refers to himself as the “gate.”
Here he goes on to say no one comes to the Father except through me. Emphasis on the word through. I am the gate.
Jesus is not talking about understanding God intellectually or by “going through the (ritualistic) motions.” Jesus is talking about integrating this relationship with God experientially.
Jesus as “the way and the truth and the life” offers not simply a model of behavior, but a “gate,” an expansive opening that comes when the heart and the mind are aligned. We refer to it as “singleness of heart.”
Singleness of Heart includes a lot of forgiveness..
Singleness is both the act of giving and the act of receiving.
Jesus says that within my father’s house there are many dwelling places. Forgiveness is the key to the gate: The gate of life. It will help us recognize these spaces within the community, within one another that allow for thriving, for dwelling, for refuge (as the psalm speaks of today).
To experience life abundantly, eternal life, is to help us recognize God’s life as our life. Jesus says that I am in the father and the father is in me.
In other places he says that you are in me and I am in you and we are all in the father.
This is the “infinite presence of God - the eternal pouring itself out as the reality of ourselves.” (James Finley)
There are many dwelling places, in each one of us. Sometimes recognizing the infinite presence of God is easiest in the Spring.
I can’t help but be reminded of God in the face of every budding flower. Each one with its own song, singing “God dwells here.”
Contemplative, Meister Ekhart said “Every creature is like a book filled with God.” [There are many dwelling places.]
“God is infinitely generous in opening the gate and giving it away…
And Meikart says “We are the act of receiving… it is not simply performative. It is what we are…”
“Our very being is God in Action giving.” (James Finley)
It is this singleness of heart that we sometimes feel in a flash when we experience something beautiful, intense, or painful, but poignant. We recognize home. Recalling: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
Jesus finally says to them, if you can’t get this just yet… if you can’t simply believe this, then “believe in me because of the works themselves.” (The goodness that we do).
It is the singleness of heart that we share when we forgive one another - and when we receive forgiveness. It is the singleness of heart that Stephen showed in his life as in his death.
It is the singleness that Jesus came to teach through his life and his death.
And Jesus says we will do even greater works than he has done.
That is the power of the Spirit…
To give and to receive…
To dwell in the presence of the Lord.
That is the power of Easter!