Readings: Acts 6:1-7; First Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
We are drawing near to the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension, forty days after Easter, just two weeks from now. Where does the time go? Like it or not, time tends to fly by quickly, even when we try to live it mindfully, taking one day at a time. We can ask if over these days and weeks since Easter Sunday 2020 we have grown and are changed. We hope so, but in fact we probably admit that we still have a long way to go in living completely for God and neighbor.
The lessons chosen for this Sunday are already getting us to think about the time of Jesus’ Ascension, when the Lord will visibly leave his band but not abandon them. Jesus says to his followers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me” (John 14:1). Furthermore, the Lord assures the disciples that “I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3).
These are admittedly mysterious words and concepts, yet tremendous consolation for those who desire to belong fully to the Lord and God’s kingdom now and in heaven for all eternity.
Looking at each of the Sacred Scripture readings for this Sunday, we find a strong thread running through them. In the first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of tension and division within the Christian community. Ideals are very important and never to be let go of, yet we must live in the reality that all of us are frail and can fall victim to blindness, prejudice and pettiness when it comes to living and working with others, even with the best of intentions.
What might be called Christian pluralism is at the heart of the first reading and it continues to be a valid concept for all of us, wherever we may be. It requires a strong commitment of loving acceptance of those who think and act differently than us. This takes prayer and guidance, to live graciously for the good of others, no matter who they are or what we may think of them.
The first letter of Saint Peter, the second lesson for Mass this Sunday, concerns itself with the fact that the life of a Christian is a life-long process by which we draw near to Christ, and in so doing, draw closer to one another as well. The image sometimes used to describe this mystery is that of the spokes of a wheel, such as those on a bicycle. As one draws closer to the center along the spokes, one also draws closer to others around. Drawing near to Christ also draws us nearer to each other.
As the follower of Christ goes forth in faith and closer to the Lord, it is charity or love of God and neighbor that transforms individuals, through the power of the risen Christ, into one family of God’s people. To the extent that we live in love with one another we are growing toward Christ, our vital center.
Adhering to Christ we share in his mission that all the world might know the message of salvation and God’s infinite love for the human race. God so loved the world, we are told in scripture, that Christ was sent by God to redeem all who were lost. In other words, everyone!
United to Christ we form a temple or house, as a pleasing offering to God for the growth in holiness of the entire Church (see Galatians 2:20). But the bottom line is living in love and not counting the cost nor giving up when the going gets rough, as it inevitably will.
Through the risen Christ and in his love, we are capable of offering our lives to God as an acceptable sacrifice.
The lives of each of us and of all believers are meant to open the eyes of our fellow men and women, bringing them to the same fountain from which we draw life and never tire of doing so.
Christ completed his early sojourn and returned to the Father. Christ came as the ambassador of the heavenly Father. Christ’s mission was to reveal God, with whom Jesus is one. Those who follow Christ are commissioned to continue the work of Christ, making the message of salvation in Jesus Christ known to the nations. Consequently, there is no reason for distress at the prospect of physical separation from the Lord, for the followers are in fact never really separated from Christ who promised to send us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to those who are willing to give all in order to have the one thing necessary, a share in God’s life forever.
The followers of Christ must keep their faith both in the Father who sent Jesus Christ into the world and in Jesus himself, sent by the Father for the salvation of the human race. Jesus’ return to the Father’s side should not cause frustration, but engender hope in our eventual reunion with the Lord. There are many dwelling places where God lives, Jesus tells his disciples, and everyone can find a place there.
As Christ’s messengers to the nations, we are endowed with God’s help or power to fulfill our vocation. This power comes as the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, poured out initially at Pentecost, and upon succeeding followers at the time of their Confirmation and subsequently in the reception of the sacraments, especially Reconciliation or Penance and Holy Communion.
Christ promised to remain with his disciples, even until the end of time. That is great consolation, and in fact “Consoler” is another name for the Holy Spirit, or the “Comforter,” who “will guide you into all the truth,” as Jesus described the Holy Spirit (see John 16:13).
The early followers of Christ were so convinced of these truths that they regularly proclaimed in their sacred liturgy or worship the phrase in Aramaic, “Maranatha,” that is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come” (Rev 22:20 and 1 Cor 16:22).
May that be our conviction and confident cry as well!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB