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Easter 3 BCP

'A little while'

07 May 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

'A little while' is a little phrase that punctuates today's Gospel. I am reminded of one of those favourite childhood sayings 'See you later, alligator…in a while, crocodile'… 'A little while and you shall not see me, again a little while and ye shall see me'. This is all said at the Last Supper table. Within a few hours Jesus will be taken, and the disciples will see him no more 'after the flesh', but, even more important, in a little while, they will see him again in his resurrection appearances which St. John records. Commentators point out that not only should this passage be understood with reference to the time between Jesus' burial and resurrection, but also to the interval between Jesus' ascension, when he is taken up into heaven, and the parousia, the 'second coming'.

Evelyn Underhill said that a lot of the road to heaven needs to be taken at thirty miles an hour. Still today, as in biblical times, impatience amongst his disciples is a characteristic which most gets in the way of Christ's work. Patience comes from the word pati - to endure, to bear, to suffer. How many parables are there in which Jesus teaches again and again that the Kingdom develops slowly and secretly? Like a mustard seed germinating in the earth, it will not be hurried. Some have said that Judas' betrayal is attributable to his impatience with Jesus' gentle methods…that he wished to face our Lord with a crisis in which he would be bound to act forcefully, and 'call down fire from heaven'. Patience these days seems not be regarded as the virtue it has traditionally been. There are impatient guides of the soul, who simply will not wait upon God. Like childish gardeners, they want to dig the plant up and check how the roots are growing. And any priest who in one hand holds zeal, while in the other hand carries impatience, will soon extinguish any spark of the divine flame of love he might have kindled.

Not to mention those who are impatient with themselves - making rash resolutions, and then falling at the first hurdle - exhausting themselves with self-recrimination. St. Francis de Sales calls impatience the mother of imperfection. He says, 'How are we to be patient in bearing with our neighbour's faults, if we are impatient in bearing our own? He who is fretted by his own failings will not correct them; all profitable correction comes from a calm and peaceful mind'.

Most difficult of all is to be patient and persistent in prayer, especially since so much prayer is made to God whom we experience as absent. So much of our interior spiritual life is based upon mere glimpses of God, which sustain us for the rest of the time. In the New Testament it is just the same, when we first get a glimpse of God as a baby in Bethlehem in a manger. Then we don't see him for a long time until we see a boy in the Temple discussing the faith and asking questions. Then after a long wait we get a few more glimpses - a man working in a carpenter's shop - a soul 40 days and nights in the wilderness and sorely tempted - later on we see the Lord and master asleep in a boat on the lake - and yet another glimpse on a mountain in a wonderful night of prayer.

Don't all these glimpses ring true to experience in our own spiritual lives? In the early days we see the simplicity of Jesus - and the beauty of the baby in a manger. Then, maybe comes a time of darkness, when we can't see him at all. Later we have a glimpse of the tempted Christ and we make links in our own lives, as we begin to see our own trials and temptations as opportunities in life for growth. Then the darkness comes back for a little while. Later on, perhaps, Christ working in the carpenter's shop then reveals himself, as we begin to find daily friendship with Jesus just in our ordinary everyday work. Maybe he then passes out of sight again. It seems a constant round, sometimes called a dance as we turn and turn again to Christ.

During those periods of darkness we have to make up our minds to give up or to follow in faith and patience. It must have been hard for the apostles to be told that Jesus was going away…but, they passed from glimpses of the risen Christ during the great experience of Easter joy, to the indwelling possession of the Holy Spirit. With patience, we too can be possessed. Taken over by God's Spirit.

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