MAY 7, 2002, HOMILY- JOHN 16:5- 15 

I TELL YOU THE TRUTH: IT IS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE THAT I GO AWAY. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples whose hearts were filled with sadness upon hearing he was soon to leave them. Their sense of loss was all the more insupportable in that his departure seemed to them to be permanent and absolute for he was about to enter upon the way of death. He himself, later in the garden and then upon the cross, was to experience the bitterness of feeling abandoned, so that he was sad unto death. Separation from loved ones for any length of time is experienced as painful and a diminishment of life itself. The more closely we are united with another, the sharper the sense of loss. Such distancing is easier to bear when there is prospect of a reunion in the not too distant future. It is lighter also when the cause of the separation is the good of the loved one. How many persons there are from this country who, in order to make a living for their family, must work abroad and spend the majority of their days in alien lands, removed from those for whom they work.  

Knowing the pain of the separation that the apostles were to suffer, and already began to feel as he spoke of his leaving them by death, Jesus offers them a source of consolation in the form of a solemn promise. What he promises them is nothing less that another self- his own Holy Spirit. This person shares with him all the life and glory of the Father. So true is he another self that his coming into the soul is the very presence of Jesus and of his Father. In the Spirit the words come true that the Lord is reported to have uttered in this same discourse: ‘In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you. (John 14: 20)’.   

In this world we must experience any number of separations that we find painful at the time. This is true of all persons; it has a special meaning for us who are called to separate ourselves from those who are closest and dearest to us. One of the earliest terms for a monk was anacorete, a Greek term meaning ‘one who has withdrawn’ from the world, and from his family and friends. Above all death is the great separator, and it weighs heavily upon all persons who love, as Jesus well knew. He came to change that, and to give a new meaning to all separations. By his death he changed the meaning of life itself, so that it no longer need terminate in the frustration of love but be a passage to a new form of union, in the Spirit of God himself. 

Our Lord’s death and resurrection bought it about that separation is not abandonment, but an occasion for a new form of presence, and consequently leads to a more intimate and profound union, a union in the Holy Spirit. By virtue of possessing the life of the Spirit within us we are made members of Christ and so become children of God. If we are faithful to his words and follow him where he leads we will never again be separated from him and from those we love in him.  It is this  gift of the new life in the Spirit of Jesus that we celebrate at the Eucharist we offer today. May this pledge of our Lord’s love and care for us be a source of strength that allows us to be faithful to our call to live worthy of his love and separated from all sin and selfish attachments.

 Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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