Here at St Mark’s we have had the pleasure of hosting walking groups who come here to refresh themselves either during or at the end of their journey and this to my mind is a demonstration of Rogation practice. Next month we will host groups walking for charity which brings giving into this picture of activity within the church and without.
A walk may also be a journey in the mind rather than a bodily experience either by the use of the imagination or in your dreams. Whichever way it goes, I believe that a walk that includes prayer and praise to God gives us a strong continuum with Biblical activity. When we read the Bible we know that walking is a major feature from the very beginning. In the first chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden’ and from then on there are numerous references to walking both in the Old Testament and the New. From the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt through the ministry of Jesus to the journeys of Paul in Acts, the Bible gives us
people passing through waters, going up and down mountains, walking through the countryside and by the sea, and finally the back breaking walk of Jesus carrying the Cross to Golgotha.
After the death of Jesus, the disciples encounter him during their walk to Emmaus and he has supper with them. If we turn to the penultimate chapter of Revelation we learn that the nations will ‘walk by the light of the holy city of Jerusalem’.
What we can see from this reference to walking beyond the Crucifixion is that the death of Jesus on the Cross was not a triumph of evil over good but a staging post pointing the way to the glory of the kingdom to come. As given in the book of Revelation, the city of Jerusalem ‘has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal’. It also shows us, I believe, that walking is ultimately a spiritual exercise because it is present in the things to come.
With the promise of Revelation in mind, no wonder that Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, is able to assure his disciples that his imminent death will not mean fear and trembling for them but peace and rejoicing that he is going to the Father. These passages are thus referred to as ‘the farewell discourse’ meaning a temporary absence of Jesus from his followers rather than a final goodbye. In
the preceding narrative of John 14, Jesus has already said to them: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you’. He then goes on to say that he will live on in them though they will not see him. As we learn from today’s Gospel reading, this is on the understanding that they ‘love him and keep his word’. If they do so God and Jesus will love them and ‘make their home with them’. Conversely, those who do not love him ‘do not keep his word’.
Jesus then goes on to say that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in his name will teach them everything and remind them of everything he has said to them. As given also in John 15 and Revelation 3 the Spirit will empower the individual and the Christian community to abide fruitfully in Christ when journeying on in the light as the children of God. As William Neil expresses it in his Bible commentary, God will ‘keep tryst’ with his people through his Spirit beyond the grave.
Jesus teaches his disciples in advance so that they may believe. He tells his disciples that the relationship between God and himself will be repeated in a relationship that will exist between the Father and the Holy Spirit. In this teaching there is an intimacy between the believer and Jesus; it is an intimate personal relationship as Jesus and the believer abide in each other. The farewell discourse is directed towards an internal relationship between the disciples,
Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit. The use by Jesus of the word ‘Father’ for God encourages this intimacy as ‘Father’ implies family.
John’s theology is Christological; that is to say the chief figure is Jesus himself. Jesus as coming from God and returning to him thereby offering to humanity a way to the Father.
Yet in spite of this looking ahead, John’s Gospel is the most orientated of the Gospels in the present. The Gospel begins with the sending of the Incarnate Word. Believers who received him had ‘the power to become children of God’. Here again John differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke in that he begins his Gospel not with a birth narrative but with Christ as the power behind the universe. Jesus is divine, pre-existent and identified with the one God. John differs also from the other Gospel writers in that he teaches in long, subtle discourses rather than the short utterances found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Today’s Gospel reading is one such discourse which forms part of what is known as ‘the Book of Glory’ which begins with chapter 13 and ends at chapter 20. This prepares us for the narrative of the Passion, death and Resurrection. The Gospel focus is on the ‘hour of glorification’ when Jesus returns to the Father at the Crucifixion’. It is the glorification of the Word for the world.
How, though, do we locate the glory in our everyday human experience? In his book entitled ‘Understanding Doctrine’ Alister McGrath refers to a sermon entitled ‘the Weight of Glory’ preached at Oxford in 1941 by C. S. Lewis. In this sermon, Lewis spoke of ‘a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy’. Lewis argued that this sense of longing points to its origin and its fulfilment in God himself. As Augustine of Hippo had written centuries earlier: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. I take this to mean that only when we have found our rest in God can we experience the full glory of God. In the meantime we can glimpse at this glory in God’s creation all around us and in the love of one another.
So let us walk on together until we find our rest in God. As it is Rogation Sunday, and mindful of the warnings of Climate Extinction Rebellion, let us while we walk on ask God to bless the fruits of the earth and keep us from destroying them.