The “upper room discourse,” comprises chapters 13-17 of the “Gospel of John,” and has no real equivalent in any of the other Gospels. It is by far the most extended conversation between Jesus and his disciples found in any of our four canonical Gospels. By style and content, this dialogical discourse clearly appears to be a composition by the author whom we know as “John.” The man wrote the discourse out of his mystical experience of the presence of Christ to him, with him, in him. If one doubts the origin in a mystical union, read the passages slowly and prayerfully, and see if they do not speak to your own union with Christ; they cannot be understood by private, secular, inner-worldly “reason,” but are communicated by the Spirit to a man or woman attuned to “the Spirit of truth.” Apart from spiritual attunement (which is a living union with God), these words make little or no sense. A truly spiritual human being from any tradition who reads these words will feel at home in them. They are one of the mystical masterpieces in all of literature.
That the discourse is set on the verge of Christ’s death is highly significant: they are presented as his parting words, his final conversation with his inner circle of disciples—and hence with those of us who are his intimate friends, living on the edge of eternity. And these words have much meaning to a man or woman who is aware of existing between time and eternity, and striving to live in communion with Christ, with the divine reality that he makes present. If your heart and mind are set primarily on fulfillment in this present life—possessions, wealth, status, family—these words will sound like “double-talk,” or “nonsense,” as I have heard one clergyman characterize them. Again, what is engendered out of communion with God must be understood by someone living in that same spiritual tension—life stretching into eternity beyond death. Otherwise, they are only words to be believed or not, rather than an analysis of existence in Christ—that is, of a genuine spiritual life.
The discourse spoken and heard between time and eternity leaves no doubt that the genuine Christian life, lived in accordance with the spirit of truth, the holy Spirit, is not what is often peddled by the churches: “If you believe in Jesus, you are saved; if you do not believe in Jesus, you are going to hell.” The variations of this over-simplification and distortion of spiritual truth depend on the particular denomination; the Catholic variety is more often “receive the Sacrament, and be saved; miss Mass and be damned.” If verses in John’s Gospel can be lifted out of context and be used by peddlers of a vulgarized Christianity, the dialogical discourse spoken by the Word within the attentive, loving mind serves to reground the disciple in the truth of divine-human communion: “Yet a little while and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold [or, gaze upon] me, because I live and you will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you.” The word “behold” or “gaze upon” is not a seeing with bodily eyes, but an inner awareness of divine presence. The mutual indwelling or communion of the divine with the human is accomplished not by “religious beliefs,” or even by faith alone, but by mutual love. On the human side of the partnership, this love is not a sentimental feeling, but utter obedience to will of God: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me…If one loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him….”
God is at home in the one at home in God. The dwelling place of God is in the soul or consciousness of the faithful-loving disciple, who humbly contemplates the word of Christ, who keeps his word, doing God’s will. The cult of worshiping God in the Temple has been replaced by the simplicity of reverencing God in one’s heart through listening to the Word and incarnating the word in the world through loving action. The Creator-God is also the Saving-God, at home and at work in the obedient disciple, through whom Christ continues his transforming Presence in the human community. Truth is not a collection of doctrinal formulations, but a process of becoming one in faithful love with the one who “loved us to the end.”