Fr. Bill Carroll – The Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 22, 2022
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Jesus is the healer of the nations–and the true desire of every human heart. Oh, how we long for his presence with us–and for the gift of his peace. Oh, how we long for the Holy Spirit–Advocate, Comforter, and Guide.
As we will sing in our concluding hymn this morning: “Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove, with all thy quickening powers,/come shed abroad the Savior’s love, and that shall kindle ours.” Or, as we sing in another beloved hymn:
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
A long time ago in a parish far, far away, a wise, old priest came to work with our choir and music leaders. Over dinner and a long drive from the airport, he and I had plenty of time to talk. My friend had lived through many of the changes of the 1960’s and 70’s, including a new Prayer Book, the ordination of women, and several other dramatic changes in Church and society.
One of the gifts that he gave me was a renewed appreciation for the Rite One liturgy—for the traditional, Elizabethan language that we use at our 8 o’clock service. My friend was honest that he hadn’t always loved this service. As a young man, he had fought so hard for the NEW Prayer Book. But he said that he had recently served as an interim rector in a neighboring diocese, in a parish that still used the 1928 Prayer Book.
And this experience changed his mind about Rite One. It opened his eyes to the enduring value of the traditional liturgy—a service filled with affection for God’s “fatherly goodness.” The language of divine fatherhood has become problematic for many people. Even if we appreciate what it meant to Jesus and even if it’s part of our personal piety (my friend said), God as Abba, Father has become less central to the Church’s public prayer.
I can feel both sides of this argument. One of my most beloved professors was a feminist nun, and, throughout my ministry, I have tried to take her concerns to heart. At the same time, though, as she herself did, I have tried to stay loyal to the vision and way of Jesus. And his central image for God is the loving Father, beyond all domination and violence. But Jesus himself also uses feminine images for God. Just a few weeks ago, we heard one of these, the mother hen.
As I have said to many of you, my personal preference is for the traditional liturgy. When I’m on vacation, I usually go to a small, Anglo-Catholic parish in San Diego, and attend their Rite One Low Mass. But I also love the other, more contemporary prayers in our Prayer Book, and have even been known to use the trial liturgies, which experiment with expansive language, drawing on the full range of biblical images for God.
The language of the old Prayer Book presents additional obstacles for many of us. Some of the words have changed meaning over time–or even disappeared from our language. We need to be able to pray to God in our ordinary, everyday language. But there are treasures in the traditional service that we lose at our peril. Take, for example, the following words, near the end of the Eucharistic prayer:
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.
I love all of this, but today I’d like to focus on the very last part, “that he may dwell in us and we in him.”
This is a prayer of total self-offering to God, in and with Christ crucified. The Eucharist doesn’t just change the bread and the wine; it changes us. More specifically, it is a prayer for what is called the mutual indwelling of Jesus and his Church—for what the Greek Fathers call perichoresis. That word refers to the way in which each of the three persons of the Trinity has its home within the other two–and within each of us. (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—they live inside each other. They live inside us.) Perichoresis has to do with a divine community so completely one that each person lives in and from and for all the others.
More on that on Trinity Sunday. But the important point is this: through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, God’s own life opens up to include us in God’s embrace. This language is drawn from the Gospel of John, where every person is said to live inside every other–and each person abides in us, as we are renewed in the image of God. In today’s Gospel, for example, Jesus promises that he and his Father will “come and make their home in us,” through the gift of the Spirit of love. Because God is good, God withholds no good gift from God’s children. Out of pure generosity, God lives in us and shares the full extent of God’s love. And the peace of God, who is the Holy Spirit, gives us grace and power to follow in the steps of Jesus.
The Spirit makes us into God’s Temple–a Temple built with living stones, so that we may come to embody God’s presence, peace and love among the peoples of the earth. This is a gift that we can only receive with open hearts and open hands. It is the gift of God’s own life poured out–with nothing held back. This gift is pressed down and running over. It is poured out, beyond measure in Jesus. For he is the Bread of Life. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s own mercy flowing. It is his own love abiding freely, without partiality—without condition or price.
That’s what it’s all about: Jesus living in us…and we, in him.