Next Sunday’s Gospel text comes at a unique moment in the Church year.
We had 40 days of Lent in preparation, culminating with Holy Week and the events of the Passion.
Then the great even itself, Easter Sunday, which begins a new season of 50 days ending at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Those 50 days are all Easter, and in them we revel in the new life Christ brings when he conquers death.
Thursday, ten days before Pentecost, is the day of Christ’s Ascension into heaven. Then comes the 7th Sunday of Easter, the “in between” Sunday.
The 7th Sunday of Easter
On the 7th Sunday of Easter,
- Christ is no longer physically present with the disciples, but
- The Holy Spirit has not yet forced them out into mission
I think it is a very typical moment for the experience of the Christian life. We know Christ is risen, but like the Apostles before Pentecost we feel powerless to face the world.
The first reading for this Sunday in year B comes from the first chapter of Acts and focuses on that in-between moment in ways the Gospel reading can’t.
This week’s Gospel, John 17:6-19, comfortingly points us back to Jesus’ last meal with his friends and his great and mysterious prayer after dinner.
Jesus is acutely aware that he is about to leave them. He has done all he can to protect his friends, but now he must entrust them to his Father’s care.
I’m interested in the “cast of characters” recounted in Jesus’ prayer. It boils down to four.
There are two divine Persons:
- The Father.
And there are two categories of people:
- The disciples who belong to Jesus.
- The world.
Jesus’ prayer bounces around among these parties, emphasizing in turn belonging, being informed, and being sent.
The disciples originally belonged to the Father, and the Father has given them to the Son.
While he was with them, Jesus the Son protected the disciples, but now they go back under the original protection of the Father.
They are to belong to each other in relationship as close as the Father and the Son.
Jesus was sent to reveal the Father to the disciples, passing on all the Father’s words to them.
They heard and kept what they learned — it was transformative, effective in their living.
What they have learned makes them distinct from the world — even “hated” by the world.
But there is a hidden key in what they learn: What they learn is that the Son was “sent” by the Father. This “sentness” seems to be crucial to true and transforming faith.
On the one hand it is Jesus’ summary of the words of God which he passed on:
…for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (John 17:8 NRSV)
On the other hand, it is Jesus’ summary of what is going to be the relation of the disciples to the world:
As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 NRSV)
I go into this week meditating on faith — faith as the word from God that Jesus is “sent,” and my identity as one who is also “sent” because I belong to God and to Christ.
Jesus prays that he sends us in the same way as he was sent. He gives us the big green light to GO.
Well how was he sent? Among other things…
- He came in person.
- He came to speak the true word from his Father.
- He came fully aware, and quite content, that he and his people would be distinct from the world.
I wonder what it means for me to be sent in person? How can I truly be present, honestly show up, in my relationships?
I wonder what it might mean for me to speak truly the words of the Father that come to me from Jesus? How can I speak more truly, and a truth that befits the character of Jesus?
I wonder what it means for a Christian to be distinct from the world in this society? How is belonging to Jesus, and living truly according to his character, marking my life?
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