These readings from the Gospel of John that we heard last week, today, and again next week are part of what is called “the last discourse of Jesus.” Now, most of us, at some time in our lives have been involved in a last discourse in one way or another, sometimes on the giving end and sometimes on the receiving end. Like when we get married, or before we go away to college or camp, or before our first date or first day at school. Somebody sat us down (or we sat someone else down) and tried to impart to us some kind of wisdom, something they felt was the most important thing to remember before we separated for the journey down life’s new road.
That’s just what Jesus is doing here. He knows he’s going to be leaving and he’s trying to sum up and distill three years of teaching and example into what is most important for his disciples to remember.
He tells them “Look, just as I am in union with the Father, you are in union with me. And through union with me, you also have union with the Father.” Now don’t get me wrong. Jesus was not saying that we become God or are God, but that we have union with God and that is the most important thing in our lives. To unite us with God is the reason Jesus came in the first place; it’s the reason he died and rose from the dead; and it’s the message that he most wanted his disciples to understand.
And Jesus didn’t stop there, he tells us how and why to achieve this union with God. He says:” I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” That’s why Jesus wants us to have union with God - “so that our joy may be complete.” anything that gives us happiness here on earth is just a shadow of the joy that awaits when we come into God’s kingdom.
This is our great privilege as baptized Christians, the hope of everlasting peace and joy. But Jesus didn’t stop there, he also told his disciples how to obtain this everlasting peace and joy; this union with the almighty God. And it can be summed up in one word - love.
Now some people believe that to be a godly person all you need to do is to love family and friends and you can get away with hating enemies and being indifferent to strangers and people who “are not like us.” But this is not the kind of love that the Gospel describes and it is not the kind of love that we heard about in the letter of St. John in today’s second reading. The love that Jesus expects us to implement as his disciples is an enormous kind of love. It’s heroic. It’s self-sacrificing. It’s fearless. It is the type of love that shows that we have been touched by the hand of God. John tells us that the only reason that we’re able to love this way is because God has loved us first. And through the example of his son, we are able, through this love, to find our way back to this union with the eternal Father that Jesus says should be the most important thing in our lives.
This privilege of union with God comes with a responsibility. That responsibility is to follow the example of Jesus and to love everyoneequally. Jesus said: “As the Father sent me, so I also send you.” That’s an awesome responsiblity. To love as Jesus loves. A self-sacrificing love. Jesus challenges us in today’s gospel to look within ourselves to see where we might lay down some part of our lives for others.
There are opportunities all around us to sacrifice an hour or two each week to give of ourselves when we won’t necessarily get anything back in return. Meals on Wheels, hospital ministry, visiting patients at the Robinson Developmental Center, hospice work, soup kitchens and shelters. Even here at the parish there are opportunities for people to lay down an hour or two. Maybe teaching the young people about God and religion in CCD. By becoming an extraordinary eucharistic minister or lector, or by joining the choir. We could help out at some of the fundraising activities, like the parish festival that help care for the maintainence of the physical plant of the parish. Even if we lack the physical strength to participate in some of these activities, we can contribute to the vitality of the parish through extra time each week of intense personal prayer.
Finally, let’s not forget that Jesus also left us a most intimate form of union with God, communion, union - with, that we will be celebrating shortly during the celebration of the Eucharist, right after this celebration of the Word. As Jesus said: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” And he left us the Eucharist as a sign of his love, his body and blood truly present in the bread and wine which we receive. And then he left us one last command: “Love one another.” We are that Body of Christ, sent by Jesus into the world, and guided by his Spirit to bring his fullness of joy to all we meet.