Seventh Sunday of Easter (Cycle C)
Readings: Acts 7.55 to 60; Rev. 22, 12-14.16-17.20; Jn 17: 20-26
The Easter season, which runs from the Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord until the Solemnity of Pentecost, has as its central event the Resurrection of Jesus. Resurrection meant the triumph over death, the glorification of the Lord’s body. According to the evangelist Luke, Jesus, after his resurrection, spent some time with his disciples to whom he became visible. For forty days he ate and drank with them familiarly and he instructed them about the Kingdom. The Church teaches us that the last appearance of Jesus ends with the definitive and irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and sky (Cf. Catechism of the Church # 559).
Last Thursday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The Ascension is the extension of the event of the Resurrection, the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into the glory of God. The Ascension is also linked to the fact of the Incarnation (the first coming of the Lord). Only the one who left the Father can return to the Father. Jesus says: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of man” (Jn 3, 13). Humanity, by its own strength, would never have had access to Heaven, to the fullness of life and happiness. Only Christ was able to open that access, that path by which man can meet God (Cf. Catechism of the Church # 660).
The Ascension is not the departure of the Lord, as if Jesus, after completing his mission, had returned to ‘heaven’ leaving us to our own devices. He has not gone away but has changed his way of being present. We cannot see him in a physical way, as his disciples saw him in his earthly life; but he is still with us. Jesus himself told his disciples: “I am with you all days until the end of the world” (Mt 28, 20). He, then, is with us, he has never left; the Ascension is not the departure of Jesus.
Between the Ascension and the Second Coming is the time of the Church, the time of mission. The Church continues and develops in the course of history the mission of Christ himself, who was sent to evangelize the poor. The Church, led by the Holy Spirit must move along the same path as Christ by taking up the cross to share in the glory. Believing in Jesus Christ is to be aware of being a witness and messenger of the Lord. The mission of the Church could not be accomplished without the guidance and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts, known as the ‘Gospel of the Spirit’, tells us of the missionary activity of the apostles, the rapid expansion of the Gospel; that would not have been possible without the action of the Spirit who descended upon the apostles at Pentecost, in fulfillment of the promise of Jesus.
The first reading (cf., Acts 7: 55-60), tells of the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The nascent Church suffers the beginnings of violent persecution. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6: 5) becomes the first martyr of the Church. Being a ‘martyr’ is to be a ‘witness’ of the Lord and the supreme witness is “giving one´s life” for Jesus. Stephen testified with his life to the glory of the Lord. The Book of Acts tells us that Stephen had been chosen, along with six others, to dedicate themselves to “serve tables”, i.e. the “diakonia” (care for the widows and other people most in need in the community). Stephen was noted not only for charitable work with the poor but also for his wisdom and eloquence. He was arrested and tried by the Sanhedrin, accused by false witnesses; he delivered a famous, long and vibrant speech in which he made a summary of God’s intervention on behalf of his people (cf., Acts 7: 1-53). Far from persuading the Jewish leaders who judged him, he drew their ire, and they finally ended stoning him. Stephen, knowing he had reached the final moment of his earthly life, gives up his spirit: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7, 59). Like Jesus on the cross, Stephen also forgives his executioners, he prays to God for them, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7, 60).
Persecution, far from discouraging the Christians, strengthens them and also encourages them to give the supreme testimony. Jesus has not guaranteed to free us from suffering and cruel death because of his name. What he guarantees us is that he will always be with us and give us as a reward, if we persevere until the end of our lives, “the crown of glory that does not wither “(1 Peter 5: 4).
The second reading (Cf., Ap 22, 12-14.16-17.20), a passage taken from the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, conveys a message of hope to encourage the faith of a harshly persecuted church that cries out to the Lord for the prompt coming of the Kingdom in its fullness, that the Lord’s promises be fulfilled. “All Revelation comes in a desperate situation, as the only way to hope. In this case it is that of the Christian who is torn between the “already” and “not yet” of salvation. A “not yet” that is fraught with painful consequences. There arises, in the scheme of waiting for the Second Coming, the cry, full of anguish and sure hope: “Come, Lord Jesus!” May that ‘not yet’ become the final and total “already” of the risen Christ “(National Secretariat for the Liturgy: Comments to the Lectionary Bible Sunday – Cycle C, 5th Edic Barcelona, 1983, p 200..).
Sunday’s Gospel (cf. Jn 17: 20-26), is a passage from the “priestly prayer” of Jesus in his farewell speech. Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples to be sanctified in truth, that being in the ‘world’ they not to be ‘infected’ by the ‘world’. The ‘world’, in this case, is not meant as a geographical space but as the place of the fight with forces opposed to the light and truth. Christians could not overcome those opposing forces if they did not count on the help of the Holy Spirit. “The core of the prayer of Jesus is the union of believers: union with the Father in the Son, union that is the foundation, source, model and measure of the union of believers with each other. The disciple is one, fully, only when he is personally united with the Father in Christ. And the visible sign of that communion with the Father in the Son is the vital communion, the interpersonal encounter in depth with other believers” (National Secretariat for the Liturgy. Comments to the Lectionary Bible Sunday – Cycle C., O. Cit, p . 201).
The Church must be at all times a sign of unity, a witness of communion. The Holy Father, as the legitimate successor of Peter, is also a sign of unity. We must not forget that famous phrase of St. Ambrose: “Ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia” (“Where Peter is, there is the Church”); therefore, Christians must reject any attempt by some “false defenders of orthodoxy”, under the pretext of defending the dogma, to question and even attempt to dismiss the magisterium of the Pope on some pastoral issues such as those addressed in the last Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”.
The Spirit fosters unity, the evil one is the propagator of division. In this regard, it is important to remember what Pope Benedict XVI told us a few years ago: “… one of the typical effects of the action of the Evil One is precisely the division within the ecclesial community. In fact, the divisions are symptoms of the power of sin, which continues to act in members of the Church even after redemption. But the word of Christ is clear: “Non praevalebunt”, “they will not prevail” (Mt 16, 18). The unity of the Church is rooted in union with Christ and the cause of full Christian unity, which always has to be sought and renewed from generation to generation, is also sustained by his prayer and his promise. In the fight against the spirit of evil, God has given us in Jesus, the “Advocate” defender, and after his Resurrection, “another Paraclete” (Jn 14, 16), the Holy Spirit, who remains with us forever and leads the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 14, 16, 16, 13), which is also the fullness of charity and unity “(Homily of Pope Benedict XVI on the Solemnity of saints apostles Peter and Paul / ceremony of the pallium on new metropolitan archbishops. Vatican, June 29, 2010).
Next Sunday we will celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit, and thus we will have completed the celebration of the Easter season. This Seventh Easter Sunday, after celebrating the Ascension of the Lord, is an immediate preparation for Pentecost. Luke tells us, in his Gospel and in the Book of Acts of the Apostles (cf. Lk 24: 42-43; Acts 1: 4-5), that the Lord Jesus, after his resurrection, ordered his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until he had sent the Holy Spirit. That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, marking the beginning of the public mission of the Church.
The Church, moved by the Spirit, is to evangelize; that is its essence, its raison d’etre. No Christian is exempt from fulfilling this mission. We are all called, in one way or another, to fulfill this mandate of the Lord.