The Fifth Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 14:21-27 + Revelation 21:1-5 + John 13:31-33,34-35
“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
Today’s Gospel passage takes place within the setting of the Last Supper. That might seem strange. We’re backing up to Holy Thursday when we’re now at the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 28 days after Jesus’ Resurrection. Why is the Church today proclaiming this passage that’s set during Holy Week?
If we were to pick one sentence that makes this passage fitting for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, it would be the one in which Jesus says, “‘My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.’” Like so much in Saint John’s account of the Gospel, this sentence has a double meaning. On the one hand, Jesus is referring to His arrest and death, which will happen shortly after the Last Supper. At the same time, Jesus is also referring to His Ascension to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven, which will happen forty days after His Resurrection.
Holy Mother Church is encouraging us to prepare for the end of the Easter Season. During the final ten days of Easter, the Church will celebrate the Ascent of Jesus to Heaven, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit from Heaven. Those final two mysteries of Easter—the Ascension and Pentecost—reveal to us the goal of Jesus’ mission on earth. This goal is His Church.
Reflecting on what this Church is helps us to wrestle with a seeming conflict between those words of Jesus at the Last Supper—“‘My children, I will be with you only a little while longer’”—and the words that He spoke at the moment of His Ascension: “‘behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” [Matthew 28:20]. Is Jesus with us always? At all times and in all places? In all our suffering, and even in our sinfulness? If so, how?
Jesus’ Church is His Mystical Body on earth. She is the means by which He continues to be present in this world after His Ascension to Heaven. The Church is referred to as “she”, of course, because the Church is the Bride of Christ. It’s for her that Jesus sacrificed His whole self on the Cross, so that she might have life, and have it more abundantly.
For you and me, the Church is our Mother. It’s through her that we have a spiritual life, receive grace, and carry out Jesus’ work. Through His Church Jesus continues to serve the spiritual and corporal needs of others. As Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, / no feet but yours, / yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion / is to look out to the earth, / yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good / and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.”
Throughout Eastertide, the First Reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles, while the Second Reading comes from the Book of Revelation. Both of these New Testament books have the same focus: the Church. But each book looks at the Church from a different perspective. Acts gazes at the Church in her first days on earth after Pentecost, while Revelation gazes at the Church as she dwells eternally in Heaven.
The Church described in Acts is one we can relate to, because it’s like our own daily lives. Throughout Acts, the members of the Church argue with one another, work at cross purposes, face persecution for striving to be faithful, and seem often in their acts of building the Church to take two steps back for every step forward. It’s a lot like your average parish, your average extended family, and your average diocese. This is why in today’s First Reading, Paul and Barnabas exhort the disciples “to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’”
Our Savior is forming us in these last weeks of Easter. He’s preparing us for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the divine love of the Father and Son for each other. In this love Who is the Holy Spirit, you and I can grow as disciples of Jesus’ Church. We can persevere in living in God’s love: a universal love that seeks what is truly good for the other.