Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.
I would like to draw our attention again to the Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I would like to look at it again because by it we are expressing something very important to the Christian life, and we are asking Our Lord Jesus for something very important, particularly as we look forward on Thursday to the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus and the nine-days of prayer that follow on the Ascension, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The first line of the prayer begins: “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding.” In bringing God to mind, we bring to mind something about God that He has done for us, something about Him that lifts our hearts in praise for His love for us. What hope we express in these words, and these words call to mind our Gospel from last Sunday when we heard that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house, a house with many rooms. Jesus knows this because of the love he shared with the Father, since before creation. His Father dwells in Him, and when we dwell in Jesus, Jesus dwells in Us, and through Him dwells the Father in our hearts. As we abide in Jesus, He abides in us. And when He abides in us, the Holy Trinity abides in us, the creator of all things, seen and unseen. The God of all creation dwells in our hearts, and continues His saving work through us. Of course these surpass our understanding, so Jesus teaches us with a commandment that we can understand and endlessly apply: “Abide in me.” If we abide in Him, and continue to actively grapple with what that means, God will work through us.
“Pour into our hearts such love towards you,” the prayer continues. It is God who gives us the ability to love Him. We are asking God to give us the Love that can be expressed toward God, and God alone. On the Day of Pentecost as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter in his sermon quotes the prophet Joel that God will pour out his Spirit. On the Cross, Jesus prayed Psalm 22, with the words “I am poured out like water.” Saint Matthew records Jesus saying at the Last Supper when He took the cup, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And then he says, He shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when He drinks it new with us in His Father’s kingdom.” And indeed, it is through the Eucharist that Jesus pours Himself into our hearts. The Eucharist is Jesus in His most available presence.
“Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things.” Jesus is in all things, and we are to love Him as He makes Himself available in all things. How He does that, and with what things He uses, is His choice. The fact that modern science has made us aware of things microcosmically small and macrocosmically large, deepens the profundity of the doctrine of the presence of Jesus in all things. At the same time, we must remember that through the things of this world, not only do we love Jesus but we give Him the first priority of our love. We are to love Him above all things. After all, we are branches, and Jesus is the true vine. Not loving Jesus above all things risks being cast forth and withering, being gathered as the weeds and thrown into the fire and burned. Not loving Jesus above all things—inanimate objects to be sure, but also above all human beings, even those closest to us—is the cause of not being fruitful. When a person, or a church, does not bear fruit, Jesus is teaching that it may be because of idolatry—of loving some thing, some idea, some possession above Him. Jesus is challenging us to examine ourselves for idolatrous attitudes.
The Collect concludes: “We, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.” Loving God means we actively love God every day of the week. The Bible knows nothing of loving Jesus on Sundays and forgetting about Him for the other six days. When we love Him, we abide in Him. And notice that Jesus makes a promise here: “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” The promise is that fruit will come to those who abide in Him—fruit will come to those that pray to Him morning, noon, and evening—fruit will come to those that in their prayer, ask Him for fruit, ask Him for His gifts, ask Him for what He already wants to give us.
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more vital and necessary to the survival and health of our two churches than the quality of our prayer. This Friday begins nine days of prayer in which we ask God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We ask God for the gift of Wisdom. We ask God for the gift of Understanding. We ask God for the gift of Counsel. We ask God for the gift of Fortitude. We ask God for the gift of Knowledge. We ask God for the gift of Piety. And we ask God for the gift of Holy Fear. With these gifts, there is nothing we as the Body of Christ cannot do, because through these gifts, God works through us, and nothing is impossible for God. It is through these gifts that we show the world that we are Christ’s disciples. Without these gifts active in our lives, we can do nothing, because without them, we branches are not cooperating with the Vine. With these gifts active in our lives, our poverty is enriched, our feebleness inflamed, our hearts melted with love poured into them. With these gifts, we become wholly God’s own—and with these gifts, and never without them, can we announce without shame, fear or fatigue to those around us in Tazewell County the good news of Christ, the coming of His Kingdom among us, and that through God and only through Him are wounds healed and freedom realized.
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire. Thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart. Thy blessed unction from above is comfort, life, and fire of love. Enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight. Anoint and cheer our soiled face with the abundance of thy grace. Keep far from foes, give peace at home: where thou art guide, no ill can come. Teach us to know the Father, Son, and thee, of both, to be but One, that through the ages all along, this may be our endless song: Praise to thy eternal merit, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.