PLEASE NOTE: In some dioceses, on the Seventh Sunday of Easter the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated. For the reflection for the Ascension, click HERE.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 1:12-14 + 1 Peter 4:13-16 + John 17:1-11
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come.”
To see life from the Christian point of view, you must view events from multiple perspectives simultaneously. This is a general truth that rules the whole of the Christian life. More specifically, sometimes the Church within her Sacred Liturgy asks us to view events from multiple perspectives.
During Advent, for example, there are three distinct perspectives that the Christian must reflect upon: the historical coming of Jesus into the world at Bethlehem; the present coming of Jesus through the sacraments into the Christian’s soul; and the future coming of Jesus at the end of time to judge mankind. Each of these three sheds light upon the other two. All three together reveal the depth of the Advent Season.
Likewise, in the latter weeks of Eastertide, there are three distinct perspectives that the Christian must keep in mind at the same time. This Sunday we hear one perspective from the Gospel Reading. The second emerges from the liturgical day within Eastertide that the Church celebrates today, which is illustrated by today’s First Reading.
In the First Reading, we hear how the Apostles and certain other disciples—“Mary the mother of Jesus” chief among them—spent the days between the Ascension of Jesus and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The nine days that all these disciples—both the Apostles and the other disciples—spent in prayer in “the upper room” as described in the First Reading are the “spiritual space” we are meant to inhabit during these latter days of Eastertide. We need to ask, then: what was going through the minds and hearts of all these disciples during those nine days?
As Christians, during these latter days of Eastertide, we look back to the Ascension as much as we look forward to Pentecost.
However, some two thousand years ago, all these disciples did not have our advantage of hindsight. Their experience was that Jesus had ascended and left them. What would happen next? We might be tempted to imagine that those first Christians had plenty of advantages of their own, having been with Jesus during His public ministry, gaining from Him insights into the prophecies of the Old Testament, as well as His own declarations about the future. We might imagine that they knew about the coming Pentecost and how it would change their lives.
Yet this is where today’s Gospel passage gives us a helpful perspective. The passage is from John 17. The setting is the Last Supper, which might prompt us to ask why six weeks after Easter Sunday we’re hearing a passage set on the eve of Jesus’ Crucifixion. The answer returns to the initial point of this reflection. The answer is that the Church wants us to view the nine days of prayer following the Ascension from multiple perspectives.
We need to view those nine days of prayer from the perspective of all these disciples during the time stretching from Christ’s Passion to His Resurrection. At the end of today’s Gospel passage, what does Jesus mean when He declares to God the Father, “now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you”? Is Jesus referring to His Death, or to His Ascension?
The answer is: He’s referring to both. Jesus’ Death and Ascension have more in common than we might first imagine. Likewise, Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead and the Holy Spirit’s Descent from Heaven have more in common than we might first imagine.
Remember how many of the Apostles and the other disciples remained with Jesus at the foot of His Cross. Only John and a handful of the other disciples remained steadfast. The infidelity of most of Jesus’ followers during those dark hours helps us understand the spiritual space in which all these disciples stood during the nine days of prayer following Jesus’ Ascension. They were at a loss to appreciate the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the radical new life of the Gospel.
Given these perspectives, we can look at our own spiritual lives. This third perspective forces us to admit how much our own spiritual lives are like the lives of all those disciples during both the days between the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and also the days between the Ascension and Pentecost. As was true of the disciples during those days, we have advantages at our disposal: what God has revealed to us, and the grace that might enlighten us with wisdom and spiritual insight.
However, in spite of God’s gifts to us, we often lack faith in what God has in store for us. If we were to make the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage our own, we would understand that every loss in the spiritual life can be filled by God with an even greater good. “Father, the hour has come.” Ask God to help you give thanks even for suffering and losses, and to make room within your heart and mind for God’s superabundant life.
The Ascension by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)