Homily 546 – 7 Pascha
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 28, 2023
Epistle: (44) – Acts 20:16-18, 28-36
Gospel: (56) – John 17:1-13
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Today is a day for transitions. In the Church, we transition from having the resurrected Christ in our midst, to having the Apostles and Disciples providing our leadership, awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Christ didn’t stay in the presence of humanity for long after the resurrection – 40 days. Sometimes, we may wonder why this is. Couldn’t Jesus have just stayed, and instituted an earthly Kingdom along with the heavenly one that is in our midst?
Perhaps so. But He gave us the reason – if He didn’t leave, the Comforter couldn’t come, the Holy Spirit. Now He didn’t really tell us why the Comforter coming was important, but as we see it is essential. Something about a lot of things that they couldn’t really handle at that time.
Also, the people, by and large, had rejected Christ. There would need to be something to act on the consciences of the people, yet remind them that they were not judged – the world’s ruler was judged.
Plus, Christ could humanly, in His incarnation, reach people pretty much within earshot. There was really no way to proclaim – or rather, reveal – the truth as long as He was operating with such high personal contact.
He had sent the disciples out, sort of a training mission. But obviously they needed more. They needed the Comforter, the Helper – the Holy Spirit. There would be no leadership vacuum in the Church. Christ was the leader, then the Holy Spirit would be the leader, to all of the Church, collectively.
Perhaps it is worth asking why the Apostles and Disciples were apparently not able to lead the Church otherwise? First, their track record wasn’t very good. All of them promised not to abandon Christ, and all of them, except perhaps John the Theologian, abandoned Him.
They were living in fear. They were living in uncertainty. And maybe most importantly, they hadn’t yet grasped what Christ was trying to communicate to them about the new Kingdom, that was still existing – overlapping – the old kingdom. They simply weren’t ready to be leaders.
See, the Scriptures don’t really tell us about leadership. There isn’t a passage in scripture you can go to and really say, OK, here is what a leader is, here is what a leader does. There are examples of leaders – Abraham, Moses, King David, Solomon – and yet, looking closely, none of them were what we would now describe as leaders.
The Scriptures don’t describe leadership – they describe servanthood. All of the Old Testament whom we see as leaders, were actually just really good servants of the Lord. They didn’t come up with their own plans, their own goals, their own ideas.
And on the occasions when they did – well, that didn’t go well.
So when the Apostles and Disciples were still being hand-held by Christ Himself, they couldn’t be sent out. They had to still learn to be what Christ was – a servant. Only then could they be sent. Only then could they deliver the revelation of Christ to others.
It wasn’t them. It was Christ’s revelations. They were witnesses, not protagonists. All they could do, all they should do, was to testify to what God revealed to them by their interactions with Christ. And if they couldn’t really grasp those interactions, those meanings – then they wouldn’t be terribly effective.
Besides, having our own ideas is what got humanity into problems in the first place, right? That was the cause of the fall of humanity. We, as humanity, aren’t good at running something we didn’t create. We aren’t great at running things we did create, either.
So we are promised the Holy Spirit. Thank God! All we have to do is listen, and accept, and follow.
That most important part. We are servants. We do things. We don’t just talk about things, or believe things, or acknowledge things. We do things. That is what a servant does.
We aren’t just trying to be humble when we refer to ourselves as servants of God. We are actual servants – doing what the Lord bids us do. Or not doing it – as we still have free will, and God isn’t going to force us.
If we consider ourselves followers of Christ, and I hope we do, we imitate his mother at the Wedding in Cana, and follow the command to “do what He tells you.” Then the miracles will happen.
If we don’t, then what good are we as servants? We aren’t serving at all. We’re doing what we want to do. And the worst part may be that we think we are going what God asks us to do. How can we be sure?
God makes His will available to us – at least the part that we always need to do. We need to love – without exception. We need to pray and worship – without exception. We need to deny ourselves – deny our ego – without exception.
Beyond that? We need to find a way to be obedient to the Church, the collective community of believers. We find that Church in the place where believers are gathered and the Holy Spirit is with us, bringing us together, creating consensus.
That is to say, bringing us together. Not tearing us apart.
Which is why I think it is important to recall the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council today. Like the Apostles and Disciples and elders, they also gather, and seek not their own ideas, but the Holy Spirit. They listen, and they serve, and they do.
They are not leaders, but rather like the Apostles and Disciples they are witnesses to what God reveals to them. That is the role we all play in Christ.
We learn to listen, and to do, and mostly to love. We serve – the Holy Spirit leads. And Christ remains in our midst!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!