John 14.15 - I will not leave you as orphans

Fr Alec
Sunday, May 25, 2014 - 9:30am




One of the most heart-rending news stories that I remember was the story of the Romanian orphans. After the fall of the communist government in 1989, news began to leak out to the West about the conditions in inside orphanages under Ceaucescu’s rule. There was massive coverage both of the neglected children and of the various charities set up to bring aid and assistance.


I remember one interview in particular in which they spoke about how the children had been so starved of attention and affection that they didn’t initially know how to respond when they were touched or held. Before long, however, they attached themselves like limpets to the newcomers, who then faced the impossible task of tearing themselves away from the little ones when the time came to return home. They would turn away reluctantly, wondering whether they had done the children an unkindness by showing them affection, only to take it away again.


If ever there was a powerful illustration of the human need for contact, for love and affection, then this was it. Love is not something that we desire or need only for a moment. Love, by definition, involves a long-term commitment.


‘I will not leave you orphans’ says Christ to his disciples. Reading this the Sunday before Ascension one is tempted to hear the words of the risen Christ, anticipating the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. But these are the words of Jesus to his disciples before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. The fear and bewilderment that they felt at having Jesus violently snatched away must have challenged their ability to trust words like these, because they scattered and fled, hiding behind locked doors, and turning their backs on Jerusalem to make a new start elsewhere. Somehow, for all his reassurances, his words were lost in the cataclysm of his death.


They felt like the orphans they had been promised they would not be. Having left their homes and abandoned everything to follow Christ, having put all their eggs in one basket, they found themselves rudderless and alone without the protection and reassurance upon which they had come to depend.


It took something new; it took the Resurrection to change what they thought was possible, to recall to mind the promises they thought were null and void. Think of the disciples on the Emmaus road – how their hearts burned as he retaught them the truth about the Messiah, how he must die and be raised, and remember how their instinct was to hold onto him, just as Mary had sought to hold onto Christ in the garden.


This time between Christ’s Resurrection and his Ascension is a time of growing trust and independence. A time for growing up, in which the disciples learn a new sense of confidence. A time in which they learn both to let go of Jesus, and also to trust that having done so he will not leave them on their own. Like orphans adopted by a loving family, they learn that they do not need to cling on- that they can turn their back and Mum or Dad will still be there.

‘If you love me,’ said Christ, ‘Keep my commandments’.



When we think of commandments, our minds naturally turn to the Ten Commandments that Israel received at Sinai. We don’t perhaps think of Jesus issuing orders in the same way, but Christ’s instructions were often urgent and demanding, carrying within them a deep concern for his followers. By this standard, Christ gave many commands, among them:


‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’

‘Love one another, as I have loved you’

‘Seek first the Kingdom of God.’

‘Go, and make disciples of all nations.’

‘Do this in remembrance of me.’


Like children being sent out into the world for the first time, Jesus’ disciples now have to remember what they have learned. Their memories will be patchy, and they must learn by trial and error- calling to mind all that Jesus taught them often as much in the breach as the observance.


Some they will obey faithfully, some they will occasionally forget. But the command with which he began his discourse was this:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’

Almost immediately this was forgotten, but we, living in the light of the resurrection can take it to heart. We do not need to be afraid because we have not been left comfortless and alone. We live in the embrace of a love which will never be taken away.


As we gather to share in Holy Communion again today, we sit again alongside the disciples as they gathered with Christ at the Last Supper. We hear with them his words a reassurance. We receive with them his body and his blood, and the comfort and healing of his presence, and we unite ourselves with them and with the numberless souls past and present from every tribe and language and nation who have been adopted into one body, and one family in Christ.