Now We Wait
Easter VII (RCL Cycle B)/16 May 2021
This week marks a shift in our life together as the Church. This past Thursday we observed the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus leaves final instructions and is taken up into heaven. His final instructions are to wait in Jerusalem until the Father’s promise is fulfilled (Acts 1: 4). So now we wait.
In this ten-day period known as Ascensiontide a couple of significant things happen in the ancient community. The community begins to coalesce around the apostles’ leadership. The glue that holds them together is a life of common prayer centered on the Temple. The second significant act is an extension of the first – the community elects a replacement for Judas in order to bring the number of apostles back to their original twelve. So they elect Matthais and bring him into the “inner circle;” thus, establishing the precedence that will become what we now call “apostolic succession.” Still, the community waits, and so do we.
This seventh Sunday of Easter reminds us that, just like the original Christian community, we, too, are living in between the promise of Jesus’ return to finally establish the reign of God and it’s fulfillment. In today’s readings, the community that Christ has called into being prepares to carry on its mission in the world.
On the Seventh Sunday after Easter, the Gospel passage in all three lectionary years is taken from the High Priestly Prayer (Jn. 17:1-26) that Jesus shared with his closest disciples on the night before his death. Whereas the few prayers in the Synoptic Gospels are short and addressed to Abba, this is an extended meditative prayer that contains a number of themes central to the work of Christ in John’s Gospel. In the verses for today, Jesus prays for the protection and unity of his followers as they are faced with the reality of living in a hostile world when he is no longer with them.
As the reading begins, Jesus tells God the Father that he has fulfilled the Lord’s will for him by making God’s name “known to those whom you gave me from the world” (v. 6). They in turn have believed the words of Jesus that he was sent by the Father; thus Jesus has been glorified in them.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus had watched over the community of followers God had entrusted to him, and none of them came to harm (except Judas, the one “destined to be lost,” v. 12). But now that Jesus will no longer be present physically, Jesus prays for the Father to protect them. He asks that they be one, even as Jesus and the Father are one (v. 11b).
As he is returning to his Father, Jesus speaks to the disciples of the joy he has known in constant awareness of the Father’s presence — praying that his disciples may know this same joy for themselves. “ … I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (v. 13). The message that Jesus has brought to the world, only to face rejection, he gives to the disciples. It is now their mission and identity as well. And since it has been derived from Jesus and not the world, enmity from the world is inevitable (v. 14).
It would be easy for the disciples to separate themselves from the world; but that is not what Jesus prays for them. Because he loves the unredeemed world just as his Father loves it, those who are now the stewards of his message must remain in the world. Apart from their witness, there would be little hope for others. God, who has been with Jesus, will now also preserve the disciples from evil. “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (v. 15).
Jesus goes on to pray that they may be made holy by the truth of the Father’s message they have received (v. 17). Just as the Father sent the Son into the world with the ultimate truth, Jesus now sends the disciples out with the same truth. By his own sacrifice he is consecrating — “sanctifying” — himself even now (v. 19), as he is about to face arrest. His consecration in ultimate truth is essential to their consecration in that same truth.
Christ’s revelation of himself to the disciples is now complete. Even though they will fail badly within the next few hours as Jesus is arrested, their witness to the Gospel will survive. Christ’s prayer is an ongoing intercession as he prays that the disciples be made holy by the truth they have received from him, as they are sent out into the world to bear witness.
In his final hours, Jesus prayed for the protection, unity, sanctification, and joy of the disciples as he prepared to leave this world to go to the Father. The disciples for whom Jesus prayed are our representatives; thus, as the Lord prayed for them and sent them, so he prays and sends us today as well.
For now, however, we wait anticipating the gift of Holy Spirit as promised.