S. John 14. 15.
Today is Whitsun Day, or Pentecost. In today’s epistle, we here that the disciples were all together “When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” The Jewish festival of Pentecost, or Festival of Weeks, falls 50 days after Passover, and commemorates both the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and the offering of the first-fruits to God. As the crops, earlier planted, begin to fruit, the first fruits that appear were marked in some fashion, and today were brought to the temple to be offered to God. This is why, in the epistle reading, Jews from all over the world were present.
Today we celebrate the same thing – but viewed through Jesus Christ. The Jewish people celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai; we celebrate Jesus giving of the Law of Love to the disciples. The Jews celebrate the first fruits of the crops, and we celebrate the first fruits of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: the crop of about three thousand souls.
Let us look specifically at the Law of Love, as described in today’s gospel. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Now, we have all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” And we know from experience that this is true. Most of us have probably had the experience of a friend or family member who, although saying they loved us, or that we were their best friend, or that we could trust them, betrayed us in some way – and it was the deed, not the word, which was able to reach most deeply.
And so Jesus admonishes the disciples – and through them, us – today: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” It is not through saying that we love Jesus, nor through feeling an affection toward him, that our love is shown to be real – but through keeping his commandments.
What are his commandments? I could only find one “commandment” listed as such in the Gospel according to St. John: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you:” the commandment, or mandatum of Maundy Thursday. That love for our neighbors is likewise not sentimental or affectionate, or at least not exclusively so: it is a love of deeds, of service to them. A love which receives a stranger as though he were Christ. A love which washes another’s feet. A love which, in the end, is willing to lay down its life for another. Isaac Williams, a 19th century English theologian writes, “Love is itself the keeping of the commandments, the new law, and the true Pentecost of Mount Sion, which is engraven on the affections of the new man, fulfils the law which it gives, and in so doing is a law unto itself.”
The way that we love Jesus is through loving each other. And when we do so, we will find, as Jesus promised, that the Holy Ghost, the comforter, is with us. His presence in our lives is not the reward for good deeds, but is in the deeds themselves.
When I came first came out to my best friend, the first person I came out to, I was afraid. But he gave me a big hug, and said, “That's alright!” In that act of Love he showed to me, the Holy Ghost was present.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
May the light of the Holy Ghost truly enlighten all our hearts, and grant us the grace to ever more love God through one another.
Ascension Day Sermon by The Rev. Mr. Michael Shirk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.