Sermon: Easter 6 RCL C – “Into the Unknown”

The podcast is available here.

Photo by: Marco Bianchetti and here

I am passing this on to you because it has definitely worked for me. By following the simple advice I read in an article, I have finally found inner peace.

The article read: “The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you’ve started.” Such simple advice. So, I looked around to see all the things I started and hadn’t finished.

Today I finished one bottle of red wine, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, my Prozac, a box of chocolates and a half gallon of rocky road ice-cream.

You have no idea how good I feel.

The words we hear from Jesus in our Gospel reading today take place at the very end of the Last Supper, on the night before he was crucified, and the first question that came to my mind: didn’t we just cover this? Didn’t we already hear this about six weeks ago? The answer is, Yes, but come this Thursday we have the Ascension and in two weeks we have Pentecost, so our lectionary readings have switched the focus from Easter and the Resurrection to Pentecost, which means we have to go backwards in the story. Therefore, leading up to our reading today is the discussion that took place around the table of the Last Supper following the foot washing and Passover meal.

Even though we are only hours away from Jesus’ arrest and his crucifixion we know that the disciples still do not understand what is about to take place. For example, a few minutes before, Jesus said, “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.” And Thomas asked, “How can we know the way?” And then Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” They don’t get it and Jesus is very much aware of their confusion and lack of understanding, and he knows that it is only through showing them—through his death and resurrection—that they’ll finally see. But he also knows that when the events unfold over the next several hours, they will be lost and afraid, so Jesus tells them, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” In saying these things, he is trying to reassure them that he is not leaving them alone and they should not be afraid.

Following this, he says, “And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.  I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” And then, he says, “Rise, let us be on our way.” The Last Supper is over and they leave and make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus will pray and ultimately be arrested.

When they make this final journey together, it is night, which is very symbolic of what is ahead for them all. Jesus to face his cross and the disciples to face the unknown world without Jesus. I think we can say with certainty that all experienced fear of what was coming. Remember Aristotle’s definition of fear: “Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.” They are headed off into the darkness to face the fear and the evil.

We know how the story ends, we just walked this road with Jesus. Yet, for us, each day and with many of the choices we make, we are stepping out into the dark and traveling unknown roads, and each of those roads can produce a wide variety of outcomes. We may have our hopes and dreams as to where they may lead, but in truth, it is all unknown. This very moment is all that is known, and at times, that unknown can lead us to fear. Not a Stephen King kind of fear, but a fear that raises our anxieties and our blood pressure. A fear that brings on excessive worry and a disquietness in our souls. It is into this darkness and the fears that follow that Jesus speaks to us as he did the apostles: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus says, through the giving of the Holy Spirit, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. What does this kind of peace look like?

My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá: we read his biography, 40 Years with a Saint, Blessed Alvaro Del Portillo who wrote it, tells of an incident when Josemaría was not feeling well, turned ashen yellow, and passed out (related to his diabetes), so they called the doctor, who came, checked over the Saint and told them what needed to be done. When the doctor was finished, the Saint asked the doctor if he had had any lunch. The doctor said, No, so Josemaría insisted that he eat before he left. The doctor did so and they had a leisurely conversation. After the doctor left, the Saint said to Blessed Alvaro, “My son, I have gone blind; I can’t see a thing.” Alvaro asked him, “Father, why didn’t you tell the doctor?” The Saint responded, “I didn’t want to cause him any unnecessary worry; this might be just something temporary.” It was several hours before he began to recover his sight, all the while, looking very rough. When he could finally see a little, he looked into a mirror and said, “Now I know what I will look like when I’m dead.” In fact, that incident nearly was his death, yet in the midst of it all there was this peace… peace that said, “I would rather you have a nice lunch and a friendly conversation than worry about me going blind or dying.” All shall be well.

We can take the advice of the fella who downed all his Jack Daniels, Prozac and everything else in the house in order to feel peace (although what he felt was numb, not peace) or we can try something a bit less risky and much more sustainable: the Peace of Christ.

Like Josemaría, you have the knowledge of the Gospel, which has informed you of salvation and eternal life. You have also been filled with the Holy Spirit, which gives you access to the Holy Trinity of God—the throne room of God itself. And finally, you have been given choice, the opportunity to choose to accept this gift of peace. Pray on these things. Some of our anxieties and fears are real, but many are simply the devil’s way of robbing us. Set aside those unnecessary anxieties and fears and allow God to speak His peace into the others. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” All shall be well.

Remember the words of that old hymn:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul. (Horatio Gates Spafford / 1828-1888)

Claim that peace for yourself and let there be peace in your soul.

Let us pray: Gracious Father, fortify us with the grace of Your Holy Spirit and give Your peace to our souls that we may be free from all needless anxiety, solicitude and worry. Help us to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to You so that Your will may be our will. Amen.

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