(This post is adapted from a sermon preached on the same subject for the Sunday after the Ascension, 02 June 2019)
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
Revelation 22:17, ESV
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart,
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, receiving an invitation to a wedding. At first, you look at the envelope – maybe a little quizzically if you weren’t told to expect it – and realization dawns on you what it is as you open it and read the contents.
The invitation includes a card for your RSVP, a checkbox for “will attend” and one for “regretfully will not attend.” If it is a wedding of a close friend, beloved relative, or some other notable in your life, you quickly check off the block beside “Will attend” without any hesitation, and joyfully return it to the mailbox so that an accurate count can be made.
However, consider instead that this wedding is for someone you haven’t seen in a very long time, is taking place in a different country, and, on top of all this, is scheduled for a weekend when you and your family had already planned a lavish and expensive vacation.
Maybe you have already purchased tickets to visit Disney Land with your children, or to go on a fancy cruise with your wife for your anniversary, or a once in a lifetime island vacation. Faced with this, I’d be surprised if most of us aren’t as quick to check “will attend” or are more inclined to express our “regrets.”
Now let’s take it a step further. You open the invitation, and not only is it for someone you’ve never seen in your life, being held in a different country, but where the date is customarily placed are the letters TBD. Upon reading more into the invitation, you find that the RSVP is asking your invitation of the bridegroom!
I think most of us would be frankly taken aback and somewhat offended by such an “invitation.” What an imposition! How can I decide if I can attend – let alone want to – if I don’t know when it’s taking place? And who would ask their guests for an invitation to a party they are throwing?
Wouldn’t you feel justified in tossing the invitation aside? Or at least delaying your decision until the plans were more firmly in place, and the picture clearer to you?
This picture of invitations is what I want us to have in mind today as we consider one of the last great, simple prayers of the Church recorded at the very end of Holy Scripture. Father Ben preached last week on the indwelling of God in those who believe, and this lesson can be seen as somewhat of a companion to it.
Today is the Sunday after the Ascension. On Ascension Day, we remembered that Jesus returned to be with the Father forty days after his resurrection from the dead. This is the last Sunday before Pentecost, so it feels especially fitting that the lectionary today is about asking and waiting for the movement of God. It is also appropriate to consider how we invite Jesus into our lives on a daily basis as we leave the Easter season and prepare to enter Ordinary time.
Reading the lessons in preparation for today, I was drawn repeatedly back to Revelation 22:17, and the strange invitation that we are extended. At first glance, it seems like the Spirit and the Bride are saying “come” to the wayward soul. If I stopped there and cut short the reading, I’m sure that I could talk only about the way the people of God are to be welcoming one to another and to the world outside.
This is an important topic to be sure, especially in this time of division and distrust in our country. To do so, however, would be a disservice to the text; and as any visitors will see during the passing of the Peace later in the service, this congregation needs little exhortation to be welcoming to those who walk through the doors.
In examining this verse, it is important to consider who is saying “Come” and who is conspicuously absent. “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come.’” The one who does not say “Come” must be the one that is being invited – and the One whom we do not hear from in this verse is Jesus Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, and the one who sent the Holy Spirit after his ascension.
The Spirit says “Come” because he was sent for the purpose of preparing hearts to receive the Lordship of Christ. The Bride – that is, the Church – says “Come” because it is the joy of the Bride to come into the presence of her bridegroom.
Hear the next part of the verse: “And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’” This awakens something in me that I wonder how many others feel, a kind of struggle between desires. I am one who hears, and St. John, as the author of Revelation, is praying that I would say “Come,” meaning that I would fervently pray for the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.
On the one hand I very much want Jesus to return, to end suffering and death. On the other, however, there are things that I haven’t experienced in this life that I would like to, but would be unable to if Jesus returned this hour; and if I’m terribly honest I don’t relish going through the things that Scripture makes plain will precede his return.
All in all, and to my shame, I am often times like the person earlier who would wait until plans are firmer before agreeing to attend the wedding. It feels like because I’m frightened of living through the turbulence of the End that maybe I’m not so eager to say “Come.” And that fills me with all sorts of dread.
But John is not through with his prayerful invitation. “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” I am one who is thirsty! I desire that I should know God and be delivered from my double-mind.
Throughout Scripture we are assured that God bears patiently with his people, providing ample time for recognition and repentance of sin. This is part of our prayerful perseverance as well – that in our disgust at our sins we do not despair but instead turn to the wellspring of the water of life.
And in this I am reminded that when I say “Come, Lord Jesus!” I am not only joining with the Church from the beginning asking for his imminent return, but also that in a personal way he would come and be present with me and teach me so that I can earnestly look for his return even through whatever earthly hardships precede it.
Have you also caught that John’s invitation is not quite like the example I shared in the beginning? Whereas the disjointed and oddly infuriating wedding I portrayed required its guests to invite the wedding party, John’s invitation is actually bidirectional – the Spirit, the Bride, you and I say, “Come Lord Jesus!” even as you and I are invited to drink from the living waters. In his Gospel account John recounts Jesus as saying that he is the very source of living waters. As we bid Jesus to come again, we ourselves are bid to come to him.
As Anglican Christians, we believe that the form of our prayer shapes our patterns of life. Therefore, we believe that prayer is accomplished not only by words leaving our lips, but also by the way we live our everyday life. In the General Thanksgiving from the Daily Offices, there is this great line that sums up this thought: “…that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives…” In that spirit, the remainder of my time will be spent examining how we can live a life that says “Come.”
In preparing this lesson, I originally listed out three areas of invitation: prayer, obedience, and self-sacrifice. As I tried to organize the thoughts along those lines, I kept coming back to the thought that really self-sacrifice is the core of the life the invitation to Jesus.
When I pray, I am sacrificing time, something the world increasingly seeks to claim for itself and tries to tell me that I am a fool for not investing in earthly pursuits. When I follow commands – from Our Lord or any other who is able to issue commands – I give up my agency and hold myself in subjection to the will of the one who gives the orders.
The life that says, “Come Lord Jesus!” lives sacrificially first for Jesus. The beginning of this sacrifice is to recognize the Lordship of Christ in prayer and the study of the Scriptures. Once we accept the example of his leading, we seek to perform sacrificial works out of obedience to love God and our neighbor.
We must pray and study the Scriptures daily. This sounds rote and trite and maybe a bit formulaic, but it is nonetheless true. In order to live a life that says “Come, Lord Jesus” we must be able to regard Jesus as that beloved in our life whom we would never hesitate to rush off to see no matter the cost.
This prepares us so that we respond to the wedding invite more in the first way, without worries about when or how far away or things we don’t understand in the invitation. The way that we grow closer to others is in spending time with them, getting to know them better.
Before we were married, the way I got to know my wife was by spending time with her on dates, talking to her for hours on the phone, and – in the information age – exchanging countless emails and texts. The point is, in spending time with her, she became important to me to the point that I would do anything reasonable and innocent to please her.
Likewise, we must spend time getting to know Jesus. He freely makes himself known to those who want to know him – the picture used multiple times in the Bible, as alluded to earlier, is that of a freely available spring of water. The only bars to getting to know Jesus are the ones we place in front of us.
Practically, the way we spend time with him is in prayer. Whether this is through the observation of Daily Office prayers or just momentary silences with our hearts turned to God, our prayers become those sweet moments spent with a dear and close friend.
The way we come to know him is in reading the whole of Scripture – as Jesus is present in the Old Testament as well as the New – with an ear constantly listening for what God wants us to hear. The Daily Offices are especially useful for these purposes, by combining the hearing of Scripture and our responsive prayers.
We are called to obedience to Jesus as the Lord of our lives. When we say “Come” we are saying that we will accept his leading and will do what he asks of us. Jesus tells his disciples many times that the one who loves him will follow his commandments. Whether this is in resisting temptation, caring for the poor and needy, healing the sick, or following the calls of God on your life, we live out our prayerful invitation when we obey our divine Master.
In his divinity, the Lord Jesus inhabits our being as Fr. Ben preached last week. This cohabitation allows us to know him more intimately than we could any human. In following his commandments, we live the life he lived – and in his living within us, he helps us in the doing of the things he commands. Unlike almost all earthly masters and governors, who command their charges to do things they themselves would scarcely do, Jesus did not exempt himself from the commandments of God.
Following the commandments of God are life-giving, as Jesus affirms when he says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. In living a life that follows his leading, we respond to the second part of John’s prayerful invitation and come to the waters of life.
Following commandments seems to be inherently practical; unsurprisingly, however, we humans excel at finding ways to overcomplicate matters – and I’m sure those who know me well would say that I am exceptionally gifted in this area. We find ways to exempt ourselves, by reading into the text caveats and loopholes and exit ramps to get out of doing things that we find uncomfortable.
I especially find this is true for me in performing acts of mercy to strangers. This is probably the area where I have the most difficulty. I know that I should strive to do the things Jesus did unreservedly, but often I allow my fears and uncertainty drive me into paralysis until the opportunity to do the thing that is pleasing to God has passed.
If you are like me, and struggle with how to act in the moment to show mercy, then let me commend the discipline of almsgiving, while we pray together for discernment and growth. The language Jesus used in talking about giving to the needy – saying when not if you give – makes it a clear expectation of something that a disciple of Our Lord does regularly. Giving money to the poor, either directly or through the Church, is a perfectly valid way to show mercy.
I have heard many people say that they wouldn’t give money to a beggar because they wouldn’t trust what they would do with it. I have said this myself and had myself thoroughly convinced that under “the right circumstances” I would fulfill whatever material need was unmet. Surely it was mere coincidence that those right circumstances seemed to almost never come about. But I became convicted that my supposed reasonableness was constricting my ability to be merciful.
I find that as I am still growing in this area, I trust the discernment given to ministers of the Church like my parish priest to appropriately handle gifts to the poor. In our church building, there is a small box in the back near the doors for giving money to the express purpose of helping those who are in need. Alternatively, one of our regular congregational activities is filling a purple bucket which collects assorted items for different vulnerable groups. There are also online giving options to various charities – I can personally recommend the Anglican Relief and Development Fund.
It is my prayer that this week we will all examine how we invite Jesus into our lives. In living sacrificially, through both our prayers and our obedience to the commandments of God, may we join the Church in ages past and around the world today in crying out “Come Lord Jesus!”
Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.