Easter VI Mirfield

If you love me, keep my commandments

Listen to this music: Tallis “If ye love me” .

The words are the beginning of today’s gospel exquisitely set by Thomas Tallis and written in a time of great religious and political turbulence, the music wonderfully illuminating the words of Jesus. These words, as we now start looking forward to Pentecost, make a very fine text for a sermon on the last Sunday of the academic year. “If you love me keep my commandments and I will ask the Father...”. 

“Commandments” is a difficult word because it stirs memories of another set of Commandments, the ones given to Moses on Sinai by the fierce God who dwelt in a mountain top thunderstorm. No, this commandment does not encourage us to tick boxes and purr with virtue, or be full of wretchedness at our failure; no, these commandments are to be obeyed out of love and the Lord will send another Advocate. The older word “Paraclete” often causes problems; certainly it is a whole lot more than a mere helper as the NRSV margin suggests. The key, surely, is the little word “another”. The first Paraclete is Jesus; the Spirit therefore will be for us as Jesus was in his earthly lifetime for his disciples, what St. Cyril of Alexandria describes as “God makes his home with us”.  “Advocate” with its legal overtones is hardly the word; what we are seeking for is a great big word and perhaps there lies the problem, for the promised Paraclete is our advocate, our healer, our inspiration and so we need poetry like the Veni Creator and the music of Tallis, for it is the very mystery of God which we cannot pin down, just adore.  

So much for looking forward to Pentecost; what about ordination, indeed what about all of us? “If you love me, keep my Commandments” - we can also reverse this, that by keeping the Commandments we deepen our love for the Lord.  None of us would be here this morning if we didn’t love Jesus but - and it is a big “but” - what do we mean by this? Michael Ramsey ending a sermon to University students on prayer with “The most I can often pray is Lord, I want to want to love you” is so much more true than so many of those vapid hymns which so debase the true meaning of love. So, if we want to love the Lord, or just want to want to, help is always at hand. The Lord litters our path with people whom we have to love if we are to love the Lord. The Paraclete will help us to love them; sometimes I am sure, by just prodding us in their direction or the other way round.

The life of the church can be summarised as all of us trying to love one another and the Lord. While we are here, with the props are all around, time for prayer, the daily offices laid on, the Mass at the centre. In the new job, in the long vacation all these props won’t be immediately to hand; in the parish the daily office please God will be there but the time for contemplative prayer, prayer of silence, wrestling with God, however you see it, has to be made. This is the way we strengthen our love for God and for others, not nearly so much as by thinking that I am going to love Jesus better today; better by far to say the office without haste and some measure of pondering so that it will one day be just a part of our daily life and as important as eating. How can we think that we are obeying Jesus if we neglect any of the divine means of keeping in touch with him? Such people are not expecting the Paraclete, they can do without any help at all and those of us who, from time to time, are involved in a breakdown gang when someone’s life has collapsed discover that, long before the life of the church has ceased to be anything much, it is prayer that has stopped. “If you love me, keep my commandments”.

The performance of the Tallis depends on each singer having confidence with the others and they with her - or him - and so producing that wonderful sound. So it is with our ongoing life; we have to work with, associate with, put up with and endure lots of people we would hate to go on holiday with but whom the Lord has put in our way and it is hard to be cross with people we are praying for, though that never means that for peace of mind we have either to keep silence or agree against our principles. Only then does the music take shape, with discords and crunchy cords (yes, even in Tallis) and so producing something that is rather unlike the present Church of England which, to continue with the musical metaphor, often sounds like something written by John Cage on a bad hair day! Tallis has given us a beautiful tune reflecting the wonder and glory of God. The late Father Jonathan Graham, our one time Superior, wrote a pamphlet about priesthood probably 60 years ago and in it he traced the lives of several theological students. They were a varied bunch and when they came together at some sort of college reunion, they were each asked, after some years at the coal face, if they could sum up priestly ministry. The articulate and successful stumbled about but one who had spent his entire ministry in down market parishes, a sort of William Vanstone I would think, just said “Loving people into holiness.”  If you love me, keep my commandments.

        Aidan Mayoss CR