For readers in dioceses where the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated in place of the Seventh Sunday of Easter, a reflection on those readings is also available.
The Gospel readings in these last Sundays of the Easter season address the question of Jesus’ continuing presence. This question will be answered decisively on Pentecost, when the church receives the gift of his Spirit. Today’s Gospel prepares us for that gift by explaining the relationship of Jesus’ disciples to his ministry and his Father.
Now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world. (Jn 17:11)
How do you discover Christ at work in the world?
How do you assist Christ as he renews creation?
Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus reveals a new creation in terms of a renewed human existence: new birth, new life, new spirit. Jesus demonstrates this new creation through miraculous signs. The wedding at Cana and the multiplication of the loaves symbolize the renewed abundance of the earth. The healing of the paralytic and later of the blind man hint at the glorification of the body. The raising of the royal official’s son and of Lazarus show that death no longer has dominion over the living. Jesus took every opportunity to reveal that the Father was building a new creation out of the ruins of the old.
An essential step in the Father’s plan was to form a new human community. It started with the first disciples. As Jesus says in his prayer today, they belonged to the Father first; the Father gathered them and gave them to his Son. “They are yours, and everything of mine is yours, and everything of yours is mine.”
Another essential step in the Father’s plan was for the disciples to continue Jesus’ mission. As Jesus received direction and strength from his Father, so the disciples receive direction and strength from the risen Christ. In this Sunday’s first reading, we see the first disciples living this out. They “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,” experiencing divine intimacy as Jesus did. It was this divine intimacy, which John calls “being born from above,” that made apostles out of the disciples. The risen Christ, acting within and among them, sent them into the world to reveal the Father’s work.
This mission continues today. Christ and the Father are available to anyone who asks for their aid. Discipleship is not a matter of merit. Jesus’ disciples had no achievements of their own; their fame rested on the signs that Christ worked through them. They offered their own availability in response.
As our second reading reminds us, the Father’s work can often be revealed only through struggle. The world remains broken because many prefer it that way. Anyone attempting to work for its healing will encounter resistance. Peter reminds us to give praise in those moments, for if we are serving Christ’s mission and encounter resistance, it means that some bit of God’s glory has shone through our efforts, and it has frightened those who benefit from the world’s brokenness.
Like Jesus, we must reveal the new creation through signs. Perhaps we cannot change water into wine, but we can come up with signs that are nearly as miraculous. Love in the midst of hate, peace in the midst of violence, generosity in the midst of greed, a safe home in the midst of a cruel world: These are the signs by which Christ’s disciples reveal that the Father is still at work, crafting something new from the shards of the old.