The Seventh Sunday of Easter, 24 May 2020

Acts 1:6-14
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

The Collect

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Background: Anticipation

As we look through the readings for today, and as we approach Pentecost, it might be good to look at the human emotion of anticipation. We know if often in the Church’s Year, especially in Advent, but also in the Triduum, the last Sundays of Easter, and then at the end of the year, as we approach Christ the King. Robin Skynner describes anticipation as one of “the mature ways of dealing with real stress…You reduce the stress of some difficult challenge by anticipating what it will be like and preparing for how you are going to deal with it.”[1] In the first reading we have the disciples anticipating a political end to the drama that they have had with Jesus. He, however, gives them something else to anticipate, to give them power to go on with their lives – the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the second reading, the author speaks to the Christians anticipating an end to their suffering, and in the Gospel, Jesus anticipates the culmination of his mission and a return to the Father. Anticipation is a reminder that religious life and faith is a part of life, mental life that recalls and anticipates. It is all related to the promises given throughout our relationship with God. 

First Reading: Acts 1:6-14

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

The nature of what Jesus says in response to the apostles, is beyond what they anticipated in their question. The political, the earthly is set aside, and instead they are promised the gift of the Spirit, and an expansion of all that their faith encompassed – “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (underlining mine). The mention of Samaria pushes us toward the Gentiles, and “the ends of the earth” unequivocally sends us there. There is another thing that was not anticipated, and that is absence. At the end of the speech by Jesus, he is taken up into heaven. I suspect that had not anticipated the role of being an apostle either – called to be witnesses to tell the story of the One who had just left them, again. 

What to do? What we understand is that they gathered, with the women, and that they devoted themselves to prayer. Perhaps that is the best attitude to have in a period of anticipation, to be in conversation with God, and others about what is to come.

Breaking open Acts:

1.     What are you expecting of Jesus?
2.     What do you expect of your faith?
3.     What do others expect of you?

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36 Exsurgat Deus

     Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
let those who hate him flee before him.
     Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
     But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
let them also be merry and joyful.
     Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
exalt him who rides upon the heavens; *
YAHWEH is his Name, rejoice before him!
     Father of orphans, defender of widows, *
God in his holy habitation!
     God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; *
but the rebels shall live in dry places.
     O God, when you went forth before your people, *
when you marched through the wilderness,
     The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, *
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
     You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
you refreshed the land when it was weary.
10    Your people found their home in it; *
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
33    Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; *
sing praises to the Lord.
34    He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; *
he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.
35    Ascribe power to God; *
his majesty is over Israel;
his strength is in the skies.
36    How wonderful is God in his holy places! *
the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people!
Blessed be God!

Our psalm begins with a quotation from Numbers 10:35, “Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, ‘Arise, O Lord, may your enemies be scattered, and may those who hate you flee before you.’” In that quotation we have a glimpse of the context of this psalm which seems to be a pastiche of sections of other poems. Reading through the elided verses (11-32) can give you a greater vision of the military nature of this psalm, mixed with a liturgical procession in the latter verses. An aside: Robert Alter translates verse 12 as “the women who bear tidings are a great host,” and verse 13, “the mistress of the house share out the spoils.”[2] These are such great verses, although they are muted in other translations, for they speak to the proclamation of women, affirmed in the first reading, and readily known in the Easter accounts.

The psalm rejoices in God’s victory over enemies, and rejoices in God’s protection of the people. Verse five makes it quite clear, serving as an example to all people, Father of orphans, defender of widows, God in his holy habitation!” This is a quotation from the Song of Deborah in Judges 5. The psalm anticipates the responsibilities of both war and victory – a lesson for our time. 

The image of God riding the heavens in verse 34 may be a mimicking of Canaanite or Egyptian representations of the sky god. None-the-less it is the God of Israel who flourishes here, and perhaps the use of Canaanite or Egyptian images is a direct speech to those who would harass Israel. The final word is a praise hymn to God.

Breaking open Psalm 68:

1.     How is God a protector in your life?
2.     What does verse 5 encourage you to do?
3.     What might your hymn of praise contain?

Second Reading: I Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

The author wants us to realize a relationship – the relationship of our suffering as Christians to the suffering of Jesus. In the psalm we saw the suffering of war dissolve into the rejoicing of victory – here the author anticipates the same evolution. A play of opposites is seen – “If you are reviled…you are blessed.” The operator here is the paraclete, the one who stands beside us, or as the text says, “the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”

The second paragraph anticipates what should follow in our life in Christ. Again we can expect to be treated as Christ was treated, “Humble yourselves…so that (God) may exalt you.” The discipline of the time is to cast off anxiety, being alert, resisting Satan, and identifying with others in Christ who are suffering as well. Above it all, God continues to follow and protect and to call God’s own. 

Breaking open I Peter:

1.     What are the sufferings of your life?
2.     Where do you see Christ in them?
3.     How do you humble yourself?

The Gospel: St. John 17:1-11

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 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. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

In the last of the Farewell Discourses, Jesus anticipates the coming of the Holy Spirit, and what will come after the trials ahead. This is prayer that Jesus offers to the Father – the “High Priestly Prayer” as he serves as the priest-intercessor for the disciples. There are three sections: 1) Verses 1-8, where Jesus prays for the disciples and their mission in the world, 2) Verses 9-19, a prayer for the unity of those who follow him, and 3) a prayer for all believers. Our reading contains all of the first section and a bit of the second. 

John describes for us Jesus’ prayer posture, “Jesus looked up to heaven and said.” It is a posture that we saw in the story about Stephen and his martyrdom. It is as if we are the proverbial fly on the wall, for we see and hear the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Again, there is an exchange – “glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” All of this is a witness to those hearing and observing, for it will give them the content of their own being martyrs – witnesses. But it is more fully defined – this relationship. It is about knowledge and knowing, and I think we can pull into it the intimacy that the idea that “knowing” carries with it. It is a shame that in our supposed knowing of Jesus and the Father, we have become divided. The unity that is hoped for in this prayer ought to be sought after earnestly and with grace.

Breaking open the Gospel:

1.     In what way are you a disciple of Jesus?
2.     What is you mission in that regard?
3.     How do you strive for unity in the Church?


General Idea:              Anticipating

1st Idea:                        Correcting our anticipations, (First Reading)

2nd Idea:                       Anticipating Victory and Protection for all (Psalm)

3rd Idea:                        Anticipating our Relationship with Christ (Second Reading)

4th Idea:                        Realizing Unity (Gospel)

[1]     Skynner, R. (1994), Life and How to Survive It, Norton, New York, page 55
[2]     Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 5422


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