Some of the most poignant pictures flashed across the world in the wake of natural or military disasters are those of orphaned children. Their inherent vulnerability is compounded, and they seem to be wandering about aimlessly. Their unguarded expressions cry out with grief and fear. They are so helpless, and they look so hopeless. To be orphaned means to be alone.
It is not by accident that Jesus calls forth this image when announcing his departure from the midst of his disciples. They have been his close companions, so he knows both their strengths and their weaknesses. Their own vulnerability and dependence on him might well be compounded, causing them to wander about aimlessly. Without him, they could be overcome with grief and fear, rendered helpless and hopeless. But, he promises that this will not happen.
The biblical stories read after Easter describe how the disciples, and we, are progressively prepared for life without the physical presence of Jesus. A careful look at each Easter account shows that the disciples did not initially recognize the risen Lord. Despite his preparation of them during his ministry, they were really not prepared for his death, and so did not comprehend his resurrection. But through his many appearances, they gradually came to realize his presence among them. The readings for this Sunday and the upcoming feast of the Ascension reveal another dimension of his mysterious presence. Though he will no longer appear to them, assuring them of his presence, he will still be with them through his Spirit.
The Trinitarian character of God is revealed in the Gospel: Jesus asks the Father, and the Father sends the Spirit. Added to the marvel is the possibility of our participation in this divine mystery: the Spirit “remains with you”; “I am in my Father, and you are in me and I in you.” There is certainly no reason for us to feel that we have been orphaned. Still, the realization of God’s presence requires faith on our part. Jesus is no longer with us physically, nor are we granted post-resurrection appearances, as were the early disciples. But, his presence is no less real and the effects of that presence no less powerful.
In the first reading, we see these effects in the ministry of Philip, who proclaimed the risen Lord, and then in the ministry of Peter and John, who prayed that their hearers might receive the Spirit. The author of the second reading encourages the early Christians to live lives of gentleness and reverence, with clear consciences. His exhortation is meant for us as well. Living in such a way, we ourselves become the evidence that Jesus has indeed been brought to life in the Spirit and now lives through us.