I'll not leave you comfortless...

The Farewell Discourse

For the last week and a half, the Gospel readings at mass have all been taken from John 14-17. This will continue until Ascension Thursday. These four chapters follow on directly from John's Last Supper narrative (with Judas having just left) and contain Jesus' final teachings and 'goodbyes' to the remaining Apostles before his passion and death. As such, these chapters are collectively known as the Farewell Discourse. In it, Jesus offers his peace to the eleven, tells them that he is going away, announces of the coming of the Holy Spirit, reiterates the importance of the New Commandment ('love one another'), presents himself as the 'True Vine', and prepares the disciples to be hated in his name. Following this, Jesus prays the High Priestly Prayer [John 17] which serves as a theological prelude to the Passion narrative that is about to begin. 

Reading the Farewell Discourse during Eastertide serves several purposes. Firstly, it causes us to reflect upon what has bought us to this point: namely, the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and how he himself outlined the 'game-plan' of Salvation to the eleven at the Last Supper. Secondly, it enables us to look forward to celebrating his Ascension and the Coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. 

In the modern Roman Calendar, this Thursday (May 14) is the Feast of St Matthias. According to the Book of Acts, Matthias was a longtime peripheral disciple of Jesus who was chosen by lot to be the Apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot. It is fairly apt that his Feast occurs during the Church's daily reading of the Farewell Discourse as it causes us to reflect on Judas' absence from the audience. Indeed, there is an empty seat in the Upper Room--let us take that chair, sit, and listen. Unlike the eleven, we have the great benefit of hindsight. We know all about the Passion & Resurrection, the Ascension & Pentecost--indeed, we expect it. However, it gives us cause to consider something we know nothing about--the great, eschatological mystery that is the Second Coming. 

We say 'Christ will come again' every time we go to Mass. All too often it seems as though we have forgotten that we are still in the middle of the Jesus story--unlike the events of 33 CE, the Second Coming has not yet happened. It is something that is strange, uncomfortable, confusing, and downright frightening for us to think about. I imagine that the thought go the Second Coming provokes the same emotions as the Farewell Discourse did for the eleven. Something extremely strange and surreal is set to happen at some point in future but there is no further information... 

'Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me.'
[Jn. 14.1]

Music: Johannes Brahms (1833-96)
Text: Paul Flemming (1609-40)
Artists: Tenebrae & Alexander Mason/Nigel Short 

Brahms' first accompanied choral work was a setting for mixed choir and organ of a chorale by the seventeenth-century hymnodist Paul Flemming. The text is about putting all your anxieties and sorrows aside, accepting fate and trusting wholly in God, 

Geistliches Lied demonstrates the 23 year old Brahms' mastery of contrapuntal technique. The choral parts consist of a strict, double canon at the interval of a ninth. As a result, the work is derived from a few, simple melodic cells. The beauty comes from how Brahms is able to overlap and develop these fragments of melody which he weaves into a lush tapestry, full of harmonic color.

Laß dich nur nichts nicht dauren mit Trauren, 
sei stille, wie Gott es fügt, so sei vergnügt mein Wille!
Was willst du heute sorgen auf morgen? 
Der Eine steht allem für,  der gibt auch dir das Deine.
Sei nur in allem Handel ohn Wandel, 
steh feste, was Gott beschleußt, das ist und heißt das Beste.

Do not be sorrowful or regretful; 
Be calm, as God has ordained, and thus my will shall be content. 
What do you want to worry about from day to day? 
There is One who stands above all who gives you, too, what is yours. 
Only be steadfast in all you do, 
stand firm; what God has decided, that is and must be the best. 


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