Keeping alive the memory of Jesus and continuing the movement he began are two activities incumbent on every Christian. The readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter describe ways in which we as individuals and as a church can carry out this noble and important task. Today’s excerpt from Jesus’ farewell discourse in John 14 gives us two. It deals first with love, then with the Holy Spirit and finally with love again; thus these two great themes are closely related and intertwined.
Those who love Jesus will keep his commandments. His commandments do not seem to be the 613 precepts of the Old Testament Law or even what we call the Ten Commandments. His are simpler but more challenging than those. They involve believing in God and in Jesus as the one who reveals God, and loving God, Jesus and one another. If we believe and love, all the other virtues and good deeds will follow. Thus we find ourselves in a kind of chain of love extending from the Father to the Son and to those who believe. Likewise, those who love one another will love the Son and the Father.
The community formed by Jesus affirms that the power of love is stronger than the power of hate. It is dedicated to the ideal of love as the great motivating force that extends even to enemies. It is dedicated to the ideal of self-giving and selfless love, because it is defined by the love that Jesus showed for us. In Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, this love is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not proud or rude or self-seeking, is not easily angered, bears no grudges, rejoices with the truth and always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.
These high ideals are beyond our unaided human capacity. Therefore, the departing Jesus promises to his followers divine help in the form of “another advocate,” who is the Holy Spirit. The Greek word parakletos (here rendered “advocate”) refers to someone who offers help and consolation to those in need of it. The term can also describe an attorney who pleads our case, defends us and protects our rights. Thus Jesus promises that the community he formed will always have divine help. By calling the Holy Spirit “another advocate,” Jesus suggests that the Holy Spirit will do for the church what Jesus himself did during his earthly ministry.
Love and the activity of the Holy Spirit are two ways by which the memory of Jesus has been kept alive, and the movement he began has flourished for almost 2,000 years. In carrying out this task, we need always recall that God has taken the initiative, that God’s love has been poured out on us through Jesus and that from his teachings and example we can learn how to love one another. God’s Holy Spirit has been given to us in baptism, and we need to cooperate with the divine power that is among us and within us.
The Acts of the Apostles describes how the power of the Holy Spirit manifested itself in the spread of Christianity throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. While its greatest heroes are Peter and Paul, other figures, like Philip, contributed to the church’s missionary outreach. Today’s passage from Acts 8 shows how the Gospel message began to move beyond Jerusalem and Judea into Samaria. There Philip does what the earthly Jesus did. He teaches the people and performs miraculous healings. His success in turn leads the Jerusalem apostles, Peter and John, to come to Samaria and bring baptism with the Holy Spirit to the people of Samaria.
While the great apostles played significant roles in keeping Jesus’ memory alive and spreading his movement, many other “ordinary” and now anonymous early Christians also made contributions we ought not forget. The Christians addressed in 1 Peter were Gentiles by birth, perhaps migrant workers and certainly “strangers and aliens” in their social and cultural setting. They found their way to the church through the good example of other Christians. Today’s passage from 1 Peter 3 urges them to share their theological vision and good behavior after the example of Christ. It suggests that the missionary strategy of good example entails knowledge of the Christian faith and a willingness to share it, a gentle and respectful manner toward others, personal integrity, courage in the face of rejection and even persecution—all following Jesus’ example. This missionary strategy was, is and always will be the most effective way to keep Jesus’ memory alive and carry on his movement.