7th Sunday of Easter

23 May 2019

Acts 16.16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22.12-14,16,17,20-end; John 17.20-end

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AFTER Jesus’s ascension, angelic witnesses tell the disciples that their response should not be to gaze up at the heavens (Acts 1.11). As our readings through the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17) have explained, Jesus’s bodily absence will enable an even more intimate, and yet universal manner of abiding. At the end of this discourse, Jesus now prays to the Father on behalf of the disciples left on earth.

Christ and the Father will abide in the disciples as they abide in God. Commenting on these sayings, Augustine writes that “in one sense he is in us as in his temple. But in another sense, he is also in us because we are also part of him, since, when he became man and our head, we became his body.”

The sacraments lie at the heart of this mutual abiding. In baptism, we become part of the body of Christ, and our own bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, in the eucharist, we both receive his body and become members incorporate within it.

Jesus’s prayer for the disciples’ unity indicates that the disciples’ relationship with him — and, in him, with one another — is one of participation, like his unity with the Father. St Hilary of Poitiers explains the meaning of his words thus: “I am in them by the unity of human nature, which I have in common with them, and also because I give them my body as food.” Christ feeds us in the eucharist, and draws us into the divine life (cf. 2 Peter 1.4).

The disciples’ relationship with the wider world reflects that of their ascended Lord. In one sense, “the world” stands for the order of sin and death — the realm that “does not know” the Father. But, in another sense, “the world” stands for the whole creation, loved and sustained by God (cf. John 3.16). The love shared between the disciples is itself an act of witness.

As St Teresa of Ávila observes, after the ascension each disciple is Christ’s body on earth. His witness to the world is conducted through their limbs; his preaching through their mouths; and his love through their works of mercy, and the quality of their common life. The Church is not only fed by the sacraments, but it becomes itself a sacrament for the salvation of the world.

The disciples, Jesus prays to the Father, are to “make your name known”, since the nature of God’s love is one of infinite self-giving. It is never self-enclosed. As Benedict XVI writes, “The glorified Christ stands in a continuous posture of self-giving to his Father. Indeed, he is that self-giving. The paschal sacrifice abides in him as an enduring presence” (Eschatology: Death and eternal life). Just as the disciples are to share the intimacy of the Father’s love for the Son, so their mission is to draw others into that self-giving life.

Our reading from Acts shows Christ working through his apostles to draw others into his life. As in so many of Jesus’s miracles, Paul’s healing of the slave girl generates opposition from those who profit from the status quo. The viciousness of the punishment of Paul and Silas — a “severe flogging” and imprisonment in the “innermost cell” — indicates the level of anger and outrage that occurs when the new life of Christ challenges the ways in which people profit from the dominion of death.

Paul’s treatment of the jailer after his miraculous deliverance is a powerful witness to the nature of Christ’s love. The jailer’s response to this experience is to have his whole family “baptised without delay”; so they, too, are drawn into the new life which flows from Christ’s paschal victory.

Our reading from Revelation looks forward to the day when this new order of life will fill the whole earth. As Hans Urs von Balthasar writes, this very act of longing is a sign of the presence of the Spirit: “We await the approaching feast of Pentecost, but our waiting is already in the Holy Spirit.” We do not only pray for the Holy Spirit, for his “refining light and fire”, but we cry out with him (cf. Romans 8.26) “so that together with him we might all the more longingly call for the Bridegroom to come” (Light of the Word).

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