Words on the Word

7. Sunday of Easter – Confirmation

Acts 1.15-26: You, Lord, know the hearts of all.
1 John 4.11-16: God is love.
John 17.11-19: To share my joy with them to the full.

The readings which the Church gives us today touch on several themes. Above all they are about the Holy Spirit. We are in the last phase of Eastertide. Our eyes are set on Pentecost. Jesus’s resurrection is inseparable from the promise of the Spirit, whom the Lord calls Consoler — a name full of sweetness, for who doesn’t yearn for consolation now and again?

Already at the end of Easter Vigil, when we stand before the empty tomb with candles in our hands, singing Alleluia, the Church lets us pray: ‘Pour out on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love, and in your kindness make those you have nourished by this paschal Sacrament one in mind and heart.’ The Son and the Spirit are part of a single divine mystery originating in the Father. Jesus’s victory over death does not merely let us survive to carry on the way we are existing now; it awakens us to life on new terms. Easter lets us live in God. And this life in God is the foundation of unity among human beings. It establishes concord to such a perfect degree that humanity appears to have one heart.

When we think of the world we live in, marked by strife, we see how far away we are from our goal. Therefore we must pray determinedly and hopefully, ‘Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth’, while at the same time clearing away whatever stands in the Spirit’s way.

Another theme in our readings, an earnest one, is that of Judas’s betrayal. It really provides food for thought that one of Jesus’s most intimate companions — whom he called to be with him, who heard his teaching from his mouth, saw the miracles he did, had his feet washed by him, and received the bread and wine from his hand — went behind his back, surrendered him to his enemy, and was handsomely paid for his efforts: the thirty silver pieces Judas received were enough to acquire a large piece of real estate in one of the capital’s suburbs.

We human beings are surrendered to one another for good and for ill. Our families, our Church, our society are built on trust. We have got to be able to have confidence in one another. Totalitarian forces set on breaking down families, the Church, society, always start by breaking down trust. They get people to snitch on each other. Nothing is sadder than to be betrayed by one we love, by a friend. But all of us, we know, are capable of betrayal. Fidelity is something that must be learnt and practised. Judas’s example summons us to self-examination: Am I trustworthy? Am I of one piece, a man or a woman of my word? To be such is a presupposition for Christian living.

In addition, our readings evoke three immense notions: they speak of truth, love, and joy. Let me say a few words about each of these.

The distinction between truth and falsehood, evident in itself, is steadily eroded in our time. People speak of ‘my’ truth and ‘your’ truth as if it were possible to privatise truth! We are exposed to fake news and a deluge of ambiguous images. Each day some 3 billion images are uploaded to social media. Who is to say which represent reality and which are wilfully manipulated? To see and say things as they are is something we must fight for now. It is fascinating that the Norwegian word for ‘truth’ [‘sannhet’] is derived from an ancient, Indo-Euoropean root meaning ‘to be’. Truth isn’t something I construct for myself shut up in my room in front of my computer; truth is concerned with an ability to perceive and to express reality. Truth has integrity. Jesus says: ‘I am the Truth.’ To know him, God’s Son, and to remain close to him, is to be prepared to recognise both truth and the opposite of truth. The world sorely needs people who have this ability.

Love likewise is. ‘God is love’, writes John. What love consists in is revealed in Jesus Christ. Love is made visible in the good he does for others; in his knack for knowing what stirs in people’s souls (even when they are unaware of it themselves); in his teaching which, still after 2,000 years, is such a source of strength that we can say, like the high priest’s servants long ago: ‘No one has ever spoken like this man’ (John 7.46). Love shows its true face in Jesus’s sacrifice: ‘No one has greater love than one who gives his life for his friends’ (John 15.13). We easily think that love is something we want to have; but it doesn’t work like that. Love is something we can only be given in so far as we are able to give it ourselves. Love can neither be bought nor possessed. It is supremely free.

If we live in love and truth, we shall discover what joy is. Joy is stirred in us as an expression of gratitude, when the good that surrounds us calls forth the good in ourselves and we are conscious of subsisting in a strange, jubilant harmony with the world — and with God, who holds the world in his hand. To be sad, in contrast, is to feel cut off, uncomprehended. ‘Happy the people’, we read in a Psalm of David, ‘that knows what joy is’ (89.16). We acquire such knowledge when we step out of isolation, into communion.

My friends, in a moment I will, with outstretched hands, ask God our Father in Christ’s name to send upon you ‘the Consoler, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and strength, of knowledge and piety, the Spirit of the fear of the Lord’. You are confirmed in the Spirit to live truly and lovingly. That way you will know joy, and peace. That way, your deepest longings will be fulfilled and you will see that a beautiful and fruitful life is possible even in the face of trials and affliction; you will become a blessing for the world.

Live up, then, to the gift you are about to receive! Amen.


Photograph: Margot Krebs Neale.