The centrality of the Spirit of God to the paschal mystery is evident from John’s narrative of the Passion. From the cross, Christ “handed over the Spirit” to the disciples in the world as he breathed his last, and on Easter morning, his first words after the greeting Shalom were, “Receive the Holy Spirit; as the Father sent me, so I send you.”
In Sunday’s gospel, Jesus uses the image of a vine and branches to express the intimacy of our lives with the divine life. “Remain in me as I remain in you.” This passage about the vine and branches is followed, expanded, and explained in the rest of John 15: “As the Father loves me, so I love you. Remain in my love.” Agape is the life of the vine and branches, the divine love between the Father and the Son, and between the Son and the Church; it is the Holy Spirit of love. The way that we stay attached to the vine and to one another is agape, by keeping the commandment to love one another. But we’re not left to our own initiative, obviously: agape is God’s life. It is within us, it empowers our love. That’s why we can’t genuinely love when we’re not attached to the vine. There is an element of surrender here, then. It’s not that we invent love, but that we surrender to acts of selflessness, not because they make sense in a self-interested world, but because they are, in themselves, divine.
The author of the first letter of John knows this, with a vocabulary that seems to come right out of the gospel, when he writes, “...(H)is commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” Separation from Christ, not living in love, is its own punishment. The world of unloving is sere and brittle; what was meant to be green and thriving is without value and burns to ashes.
Because this divine call to love is always paschal, that is, it requires by its very essence self-emptying as the mode of fullest life, it is always surprising us, shaking us awake, exposing our prejudices, disruptive of our habits of accumulation and territoriality. The Spirit’s life-giving inspiration utterly changes Saul from his violent orthodoxy to a new life of non-violent persuasion and dialogue. This alarming transformation takes all those who knew him by surprise; they cannot imagine that his new life is anything but some kind of trickery. Others recognize in the new Saul/Paul what they saw in themselves, and what they remember from the Lord: the transfigured, the resurrected life often renders the person and the world one previously knew unrecognizable. They come to his aid, shield him, and reintroduce the new man to the community. In Paul as in Christ, the rejected stone became a key stone of the structure that is the body of Christ, the Church.
More and more these last weeks of Easter, it is revealed to us that the Holy Spirit gives us, through our incorporation into Christ, a share in the agape life of God, gives us a new identity as the children of God, and sends us on mission as Christ himself was sent to wash the feet of the world as an example of the kind of love that has been been poured into our hearts. As we give thanks for this great God whose very nature is self-giving, let us continue to pray for the courage to surrender to that Spirit, that in that Spirit we might renew the face of the earth.
Here’s the music we’re singing Sunday at St. Anne. We also have first communion the next couple of weeks. I've written about that before, but in case you missed it, here's a link. At least it gives you the opportunity to re-read Frank McCourt's great memoir about his first communion in Limerick.
Gathering: We Have Been Told, by David Haas
Psalm 16: Path of Life, by Balhoff/Daigle/Ducote Psalm 16 is one of the seasonal psalms for Easter, I substituted it today for the psalm of the day, which is drawn from the final verses of Psalm 22.
Preparation Rite: God Is Love, by Rory Cooney.
Communion: I Will Be the Vine, by Liam Lawton
Recessional: All Things New, by Rory Cooney
The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.
It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers (Acts 9:31)