7th Sunday in Easter (C)
Picture: cc OakleyOriginals
My dear friends, if I were to ask you where you live, how would you answer the question? Assuming, of course, that you trust me enough to tell me the truth. And you don’t just ask me to mind my own business. Very likely, you’ll do what the rest of us would do. What I was taught to do when I was growing up. As a little boy, I was made to memorise my home address. So that I could find help, if ever I got lost. But is that the only way to answer the question, where do you live? By revealing our street address? What do you think?
Some of us may remember that story at the beginning of John’s Gospel, where Jesus answers this same question in a very different way. While walking along the river Jordan, the Lord attracts the attention of two disciples of John the Baptist. And when he asks them what they want, they ask him in return, Rabbi, where do you live? Do you remember how Jesus responds? Well, he doesn’t just tell them his address. He doesn’t say 120 King’s Road. Or 8 Victoria Park Road. Instead, he invites them to come and see…
Why does he do that? When asked where he lives, why doesn’t Jesus just state his address? Perhaps we may think that it’s because he doesn’t have one. At this point in the story, he has probably already left his family home in Nazareth, to live the life of a travelling preacher. So, very likely, his address changes from day to day. He can’t say exactly where he lives. People just have to come and see for themselves.
A reasonable enough explanation. But could there be another? A deeper reason? Could it be that, for Jesus, the question where do you live cannot be adequately answered by repeating a string of numbers and names. Could it be that what Jesus wants to share with people is not just his street address, but his spiritual home? Not just where he lays his head from time to time. But where he rests his heart all of the time. Could it be that the Lord’s wish is to lead people to where he truly lives. Where he has always lived. Even from before the foundation of the world. His eternal resting place. In the loving and merciful will of the One who sent him. And the only way he can do this is by inviting them to follow him. To observe and imitate how he lives. To come and see.
To know not so much the Lord’s street address, but his spiritual home. So that we may truly live where he lives. In the way that he lives. Isn’t this the precious gift that Jesus is praying for, on our behalf, in the gospel today? Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me… To be with me where I am. In other words, to live where the Lord himself lives. Not just to join him in heaven, after we are dead and gone. Although that is a good thing to pray for. But to live where he lives even now. While we still remain on this earth. To live in his love. Just as he lives in his Father’s love. This is the awesome present that Jesus asks the Father to give to his disciples. To give to us.
And this gift has actually already been given. Do you know what it looks like? We find the answer in the other two readings. In the first reading, Stephen fearlessly proclaims the gospel, and suffers persecution for it. He is dragged out of the city of Jerusalem. And taken to a place of punishment. Where he is cruelly stoned to death. And yet, the reading tells us that, even in the face of such terrible suffering, Stephen is able to experience the presence of the Lord. I can see heaven thrown open, he declares, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Even as he is being dragged to his death, Stephen is able to do what Jesus wishes that all his disciples could do. He sees the glory of God. A sign that, even in the midst of great trial and deep suffering, even when he finds himself at an execution ground, Stephen continues to joyfully make his home in the Lord. To live where Jesus lives.
We find something similar in the second reading, taken from the end of the book of Revelation. Here, the apostle John remains in exile on the island of Patmos. And yet, in his painful isolation, in his distant desolation, John too is able to experience the closeness of the Lord. He doesn’t see a vision this time. But he hears a voice. A voice that reminds him of the identity of the One to whom he has committed his life. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End… A voice that reassures John that he is not alone. I shall indeed be with you soon. A voice that proves to us that, even while on an island of exile, John continues to live where Jesus lives.
Sisters and brothers, although, in our readings today, Stephen and John find themselves at very different physical locations. Very different street addresses. They actually live in the exact same spiritual place. They share the same home. They live where Jesus lives. They live in the same way that Jesus lived. Bearing witness to the good news of God’s love for us in Christ. Seeing the Lord’s glory even as they lay down their lives for others. So that, what we find in the experience of Stephen and John, is really the Father’s gracious answer to Jesus’ fervent prayer in the gospel. In Stephen and John, we find people who have been given the priceless ability always to be where the Lord is.
To live where Jesus lives. Even while we remain here on this earth. To make him our spiritual home. No matter what our street address may be. To somehow be able to see his face. To hear his voice. To experience his presence. Even and especially in times of trial. Encouraging and consoling us. Accompanying and guiding us. Strengthening and inspiring us. Isn’t this something that we all need so very much? Especially those of us whose lives are often filled as much with stress and strain, as loneliness and a lack of purpose? Those of us who may sometimes try to fill the emptiness of our hearts with all sorts of bad habits and addictions. Desperate diversions that may dull our pain for a time. But can really do nothing to calm our restlessness. To shelter our homelessness. To heal our brokenness.
Perhaps it is especially for those of us who suffer in this way, that Jesus prays in the gospel. And the good news is that his prayer has already been heard. His request has already been granted. The gift has already been given. This is the good news of Easter. All we need to do is to keep taking the necessary steps to claim this gift for ourselves. To come to where the Lord lives. Like those first disciples did. To come and see. To commit and to follow. And then to be sent out to help others do the same. Others who, like us, often suffer from restlessness and homelessness. No matter what their street addresses may be.
Sisters and brothers, on this 7th Sunday of Easter, if I were to ask you where do you live? What would your answer be?