Our Gospel reading for this morning comes at a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life. Jesus is praying to God the Father at the very end of the Last Supper. In just seven verses, Jesus and his disciples will head out to the garden where Jesus will spend the rest of the night in prayer and preparation for the ordeal of the crucifixion. Jesus will be arrested early the next morning, and his Passion will begin.
Given what Jesus knows is coming, and in the immediate future, we might expect the tone of his prayer in our reading to be downcast. But that isn’t right. Jesus prays about joy, about his joy and ours. Jesus explains that he has said and done the things he has said and done “so that they—his disciples and, by extension, us—may have my joy made complete in themselves.”
That is an astonishing line. We can share in Jesus’ joy. Even more: Jesus’ joy is somehow incomplete apart from us, Jesus’ joy is perfected as we all come to share in his joy more completely.
That’s a lot to take in.
There’s another puzzling line in our passage that I think is connected. Praying to God the Father, speaking about his disciples, Jesus says, “They were yours [God’s], and you [God] gave them to me [Jesus].”
We are, all of us, gifts from God the Father to God the Son, gifts that fill Christ with joy.
We normally, and rightly, focus on the gifts we receive from God. But I love turning that around, too. I love thinking about us as gifts to Jesus.
That image of us as gifts to Jesus is one that invites us to play with it, to have fun with it.
So here goes. I think first about gifts I receive. These days, gifts to me tend to be sweets, which is a good and joyful thing. I receive the gift as a sign of the giver’s love, which feels good. And I take delight in the gift itself.
That’s what we are for Christ. Christ receives us as gifts from the Father as signs of the Father’s love. And Christ takes delight in us. We give Christ joy.
That means every day is like Christmas morning for Jesus. Creation is chock full of gifts. We, everybody and all of creation, are like gift-wrapped packages with Jesus’ name on them.
I think of Christmas mornings in our house, when our children were still young enough to be wildly excited, but old enough to have some slight restraint. Benjamin and Nicholas could draw out the process of going through their presents from Santa for most of the morning. It was hours of joy.
Their joy, the joy of every child on Christmas morning, gives us a picture of Christ. And we are the gifts. Think about that. Jesus knows what is in each box, of course. And still Jesus rejoices as he “opens each present,” as he looks on us, his beloved people, gifts from his heavenly Father.
Here’s another way to play with this image. We can use it to think about the whole sweep of salvation history.
Start all the way at the beginning, before creation itself. All there is is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons perfectly united as one.
How the three persons of the Trinity interact is, of course, a great mystery, far beyond what human beings could ever understand. With that qualification, here is how I picture it.
I picture the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit playing and laughing and having a great time. In the midst of all that fun, their love begins to overflow. It’s like the three persons of the Trinity have more love than they know what to do with.
So God the Father says to God the Son and also to the Holy Spirit, “I know what would be fun. Let’s create a world. Let’s create a world that we can love. Let’s fill our new world with creatures that we can bless with our love. Let’s make human beings in our own image and likeness, capable of experiencing the love that we so enjoy.”
Because the three persons are perfectly united as one, the Son and Holy Spirit agree, and they get to work, creating. When creation is complete, they agree it is really, really good.
But before turning the whole thing on, the Father says to the Son, “Son, for human beings to love truly, they are going to need free will. But if we give them free will, they are going screw it up. And that could throw all of creation out of balance.”
The Son answers, “Leave it to me. Give them free will. When the time comes, I’ll make it right.”
To which the Father says, “You do that, and they are yours to enjoy for all eternity. You can have a loving union with each and every one of them forever. In them, your own joy will be made complete.”
Unfortunately, now that we have come this far, we can’t stop.
Christ did his part. But to the degree that Christ’s joy involves us, Christ’s joy is not complete. Christ’s joy in us, and our joy in Christ, will not be complete until God’s vision for the whole of creation is realized.
We were created to give and receive love. We were created so that we might be one, united in love with God and with each other, as the Father and the Son are one. Jesus says that in his prayer. But that’s not working out so well.
That’s true for us here at Saint David’s. That’s even more true when we include our neighbors near and far, and indeed all of creation.
And so Christ invites us, who already share in Christ’s joy to some degree, who also compromise Christ’s joy to some degree, Christ invites us to take up his mission. Christ ends his prayer to God the Father by saying, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Christ sends us out to share Christ’s love with all of God’s beloved children. We who share in the love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we who share in Christ’s love for all of creation, we are called to love as Christ loves. That is our true joy as it is Christ’s true joy.
As we love, we spread Christ’s joy. We do our bit to bring Christ’s joy to completion in ourselves and in others.
What that looks like in practice varies from person to person.
But all of us are called to grow in the love of God and neighbor. All of us are called to work for the unity that is God’s vision for creation.
Along the way, we get to share in Christ’s joy, even as we wait for Christ’s joy to be made complete when God’s mission is done.
And so, on this last Sunday of the Easter season, I give thanks to God for inviting us to share in Christ’s joy. I give thanks to God for inviting us to share in Christ’s mission of love. And I pray that God will help us to be joyful heralds of the incredible, death-defying love of Christ for all of creation.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan