The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Service of the Word Online      24th May 2020
'So that they may be one'
Ayla Lepine

Acts 1.6-14
Psalm 68.1-10, 32-end
1 Peter 4.12-14; 5.6-11
John 17.1-11
God’s gift of God’s own self, in Jesus, is a gift that joins heaven and earth in a new way, forever. In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to God the Father with intensity on behalf of the disciples. We learn, as they do, about eternal life as an experience of being utterly known by God and knowing God in a way that reaches out beyond the limits of language. There is so much giving and receiving in this passage. In the sensual poetry of the Song of Songs, the bride says ‘My beloved is mine, and I am his’. There is a resonance here in the depth of love between humanity and God, and between the Father and the Son, when Jesus says to the Father, ‘All mine are yours, and yours are mine.’ When Jesus asks the Father to protect these frail yet hopeful people, it is so that true unity may be possible, ‘so that they may be one, as we are one.’ We can read this promise of divine unity together with that beautiful line from the letter of Peter, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.’
Peter’s letter is honest about suffering. There are no easy answers to the biggest of questions. Jesus does not abandon us. Even when it may feel thin or brittle, hope must remain. There are many reasons to be anxious. All of these reasons, whatever they may be for you today, or for someone on the other side of the world, are valid and are part of the process of being human. To be alive is to be exposed to the reality of suffering. As over 36 000 people in the UK have died from Coronavirus, St Paul’s Cathedral have created a space online simply called ‘Remember Me’. It is a place for the families and friends of those who have died from the virus to remember those they love and see no longer.
David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s, has explained that one of the saddest impacts of this pandemic is the inability to gather to say goodbye to loved ones, to grieve, and to remember together. When gatherings can take place, whenever that may be, what shape they may take and how bereavement may emerge will raise enormous questions. In a recent article, the Dean writes, ‘While the news discusses large numbers of infections and deaths, we know that each statistic is a person — a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a neighbour, a friend. Every person is valued, each life is worthy of remembrance.
‘Cast all your anxiety on him,’ says Peter in his letter. What kind of God are we giving all of our worries to? The God that Jesus shows us, and the God who offers us hospitality of the most wild and extravagant kind in John’s Gospel. There is a tenderness in the way Jesus describes his life and work to his Father, saying of the people he has come to know and love, ‘They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.’ It would be wrong to read Jesus’ description of his experience on earth as a kind of mystical report, detailing how he achieved the goal that had been set by his perfectionist Father. Rather, it is the Son of God’s meditation on what it has been like to give and receive love, being a radiant conduit between the heavenly and the earthly.
At the very beginning of John’s Gospel, we hear that ‘the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.’ We have these words displayed by two angels in the chancel of our church. It is between these two angels, and these words, that the Gospel is proclaimed in our sacred place every Sunday, when it is possible to gather. It will, we pray, be proclaimed there again before long. In our Gospel reading today, as we approach the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus opens up a way of seeing what the meaning of the Incarnation – the Word made flesh – might be for every human being. The meaning, as Jesus describes it, is this: to be one, as the God the Father, the Son, and indeed the Holy Spirit are one.
Being ‘one’ does not mean being the same. We know this about the nature of God as well as our world. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all fully God, and the mutual love that endlessly flows throughout them, as one, is the love that moves through everything, everywhere, always, like a steady pulse. In the midst of this unity and flow of relationship, God delights in the particularity of things. Differentiation, diversity, chance, specificity – all of these things are a God-given aspect of being on this planet. Christ’s purpose was not to make everyone the same, or indeed to make anyone do anything at all. Christ’s purpose on earth, from the encounter between an angel and an ordinary young woman to the cross and the empty tomb has been to reveal the all-embracing reality of God’s love. Why? Why would God dare to love us so much, and hold back nothing of himself to express that love? Perhaps we might respond to that question with a question. We might imagine Jesus, full of compassion, with his disciples, responding, ‘Why not?’ Every life has value. Every moment has value. And God is with us in it, always. Amen.

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