‘Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.’ (Psalm 104/l03)
We are a week away from Pentecost, and the readings are pointing us towards the event which has been called ‘the birthday of the church’ – the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early disciples. It is traditionally a time to open up our hearts to receive that powerful presence.
It is also a week to pray for our fragile environment as Sunday is the 5th anniversary of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s encyclical.
Luke lists the Apostles who had witnessed the Ascension of Jesus, and shows them in prayer with Mary ‘and his brothers’. These last named may be blood relatives of Jesus, or as Jesus had said early in his ministry that those disciples listening to him were his family, it could mean additional unnamed disciples. The Greek word can include ‘sisters’ so may have included other women besides Mary. (Luke has listed some of the those who had followed Jesus from Galilee and been ‘serving’ him.) I see Luke suggesting a group representing the whole of the disciples who would have the role of carrying on the works Jesus did in his ministry: spreading the ‘good news’, healing, and serving those in need.
Psalm 26/27:1, 4, 7-8
The psalm response is a general one of wanting to be in the presence of the Lord, and to ‘seek him face’ – the word ‘face’ standing in for the whole as it does also in Psalm 104 with ‘face of the earth’.
1 Peter 4:12-16
As last week, this Letter encourages the early Christians who risked persecution and death for sticking to their faith. Once again, it is a reminder that we are living in a ‘new age of martyrs’. In various ways and in various places, Christians are discriminated against, killed and churches bombed. We in our more tolerant societies do not expect that level of suffering for ourselves – but to have the courage to do so is something Peter may expect all to display. The demands of discipleship anywhere may call for lesser sacrifices: of time, sharing funds and other resources, and serving those whose needs are acute. At present, one need is to help those most endangered by the effects of the corona virus and the results of lockdowns and closures.
The liturgy concludes a series of readings taken from the chapters in John that contain Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper. The climax is Jesus praying openly for those he is leaving behind, and also for all of us who will follow him. I see it therefore as a personal prayer for each Christian.
In this Gospel, Jesus’ ‘glorification’ begins on the cross, and his death, rising and reuniting with the Father in heaven are all one event which shows him ‘at the heart of creation’ from the very beginning. The opening words of this prayer show the great significance of this: that all people are offered life everlasting. For a period of time, these disciples present will remain in this world, just as have to do in our times. Jesus also stresses the bond of love that connects him to his disciples.
In the selections we heard in previous weeks, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that will replace Christ’s physical presence among his followers. In this gospel (in contrast to Luke and his account of Pentecost) Jesus gives the Spirit immediately after his resurrection. [John 20:22]
The liturgy only presents us with the first half of the prayer, and when you have time you can read the rest, John 17:11-26. The fullness of what Jesus had to say demands much reflection as difficult theological issues are behind the simplicity of his words. These passages are, however, some of the most comforting promises in the New Testament. There are also some hidden challenges, as we are told we to be ‘one’, just as Jesus is one with his Father. We live in a world that encourages divisions and factions, finding fault and blaming others, but Jesus simply says we are not to be part of that world. As his followers, we are not a real part a world that rejects God’s love. In John, the ‘world’ has a negative sense of a place of sin and error. But this is not the physical earth, and this condemnation is no excuse for not loving and caring for our planet.
If we remain in that love Jesus and the Spirit pour out upon, we come to the concluding words of this prayer: that God’s love shown in Jesus will also be in us – that we humans are united with each other and united in the very Godhead of Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. Such a gift, I believe, will only be understood fully in the life to come, but in the present that is the basis of our hope and faith.