Readings: Acts 20:17-27; Psalm 67; John 17:1-11
Speaking to the elders of the church of Ephesus, Paul summarises his mission simply: 'to bear witness to the gospel of God's grace'. It is the task of every disciple, by word and action, by prayer and solidarity, to bear witness to the gospel of God's grace. It is the task particularly of people called to teach the faith: parents and catechists, priests and preachers, teachers and spiritual companions. To be a preacher is therefore a wonderful calling, simply to testify to the grace of God, to place that at the centre of our lives, and to make it our only obsession.
A common factor in all these vocations is the need to speak, to find words with which to talk to people about the grace of God. And where are these words to come from? I mean words that will carry what we want them to carry, the gospel of God's grace. We could teach a parrot to say 'the grace of God, the grace of God, the grace of God', and it might serve some good purpose. But we know that the parrot has not entered into the meaning of the words nor has the meaning entered into him. Unless he is a very intelligent parrot indeed, he does not know what he is talking about.
But neither do we know what our words are about when we bear witness to the gospel of God's grace. They are words of eternal life and how can we know what that means? We can know more than the parrot, but the deepest meaning of the words we pass on is a divine meaning, revealed only by the Spirit of God who intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
Jesus speaks about this in his high priestly prayer, the first part of which we read today. In it we hear Jesus saying to the Father 'the words you gave to me I have given to them'. Our words have a depth of meaning only when they originate in communion, in some sharing of life, some friendship, some mutual knowledge, which gives the words real purchase on human experience. George Steiner wrote a very wonderful book about this years ago, called Real Presences: Is There Anything In What We Say? His argument there is that without openness to a transcendent, there is nothing in most of what is now said, in the billions of words that are processed every day there is nothing of real human significance.
Jesus teaches us about the Communion in which his words originate: it is his Communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. This sharing of life between the Persons of the Blessed Trinity is the source of all effective speaking about the grace of God. That Communion supports Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection, and it is into that same Communion that he invites the disciples. 'Everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine', Jesus says to the Father, referring to the disciples who have been given to him by the Father and whom he leads back to the Father. We are embraced by the Persons of the Trinity as the Spirit of Pentecost comes to seal our communion with Them, to establish it within and without, in our hearts and in our relationships.
So we dare to speak of the grace of God, although it is a mystery hidden from before the ages, and although the things God has prepared for those who love Him are yet to be revealed. Like Mary and John the Baptist, like Peter and Paul, like believers and preachers across the centuries, we are privileged to be bearers of the word of God's grace. Paul says to the elders that he has put before them 'the whole of God's purpose' and we believe that it has also been shared with us. In the darkness of faith and the tension of hope we have already entered into eternal life. We have come to know God as the only True God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. It is not a reason for smugness, arrogance or complacency, because bearing the word of God's grace means also carrying the cross of Christ. And this knowledge which supports our words has come not through any cleverness or strategy of our own but by the gift of the Spirit who enables us to call God 'Abba' and to say 'Jesus is Lord', who provides us with the words we need to speak, however haltingly, about the gospel of God's grace.