Sunday, 17 May 2015

Easter Week 7 Sunday (Year B) - 17 May 2015

Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; Psalm 103; 1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11b-19

Where Acts of the Apostles recounts the adventures of the first Christian disciples and preachers, and the Book of Revelation paints dramatic pictures of the experience of the Church in a time of persecution, other texts of Eastertime can seem more abstract. This is true in particular of the Johannine writings, the First Letter of John and the Gospel of John, both of which we read throughout Eastertime, and from which two of today’s readings are taken. They are obviously rich and profound but, truth be told, they can be a bit repetitious, a bit more difficult to engage with.

The casting of lots to choose Matthias in place of Judas is easily understood. It seems to leave more room for the Holy Spirit to work – remove the human factor, leave space for chance (the fall of the dice), and whatever way the dice fall we will take it as a sign from the Spirit as to which of them is chosen. Thomas Aquinas says that this was an acceptable way of choosing Matthias for the apostolic ministry only because it happened before the Church had received the Spirit of Truth at Pentecost.

The other two readings today, from 1 John and from the Gospel of John, speak to the situation after Pentecost, when the human factor is not only left in but becomes the determining factor in decision making within the Church. ‘It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’, we read elsewhere in Acts, the Church seeing in its own post-Pentecost deliberations and decisions a presence also of the Holy Spirit guiding and protecting the Church, above all keeping her in the truth.

The term ‘truth’ itself, like ‘being’, or ‘life’, or ‘love’, can at times be so universal, so all-embracing, that it can seem quite empty. An abstract term, including everything, it can seem then to include nothing recognizable to us, nothing concrete or particular, nothing of flesh and blood, nothing of time and space. No story, or image, or personality: just truth, or being, or life, or love. We might even be tempted to sympathize with Pontius Pilate’s question during his interrogation of Jesus, ‘truth? What is that?’ Or we might be fearful of any claim to ‘truth’, thinking that it must imply dogmatism or fundamentalism of some kind, a claim to know that will entitle the knower to exclude or even to oppress anyone who does not share the same belief or knowledge.

And yet Jesus prays to the Father asking him ‘to consecrate them in the truth’. He prays this for his apostles and disciples, the ones who had become his friends, and he prays it also therefore for us. To be consecrated means to be picked out and dedicated completely to something. It means to be made holy for that thing for which one has been dedicated. And holiness means integrity, purity, coherence, genuineness, to be completely given to that for which a person has been dedicated. Those who remain in the Word which is Jesus remain in the Father whose Word he is and they are thereby consecrated in the truth. They receive the Spirit of Truth, the promise or gift of the Father, who will be sent when the Son returns to the Father. It is this same Spirit, 1 John says, who assures us that we remain in the Father and the Father remains in us. 

Two things then emerge. One is that what begins in abstraction ends in something deeply personal. The truth in which the disciples are consecrated is the Word of God and this Word is Jesus. The consecration is brought about by the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus before he leaves the world and returns to the Father. So ‘consecration in the truth’ means living within the Blessed Trinity. It means being held and sustained in those relations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit which, we believe, God is. The friends of Jesus are brought inside those relations of knowledge and love which constitute the unity of God. It is why disunity among us is so tragic: it contradicts what we are most deeply, the communion we are called to live.

A second thing that emerges is that the mission of Jesus does not end with his return to the Father. Instead, through his mission, he calls and prepares disciples to continue his work in the world. ‘As you sent me into the world’, he says to the Father, ‘so I sent them into the world’. To follow him does not mean leaving the world although to be consecrated in truth inevitably puts us at odds with something about the world. The world is the domain of the evil one but it is also that which the Father loved so much that he sent his only Son to redeem it. The work of redemption continues in and through those who believe in Christ, in and through all who have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

So what might at times feel like abstractions – truth and being, life and love – become personal in two ways. They are personal in the great mystery of God’s own life in which human persons are now to be included. And they are personal in our relations with each other within the community of the Church. We see it taking shape in the Acts of the Apostles as the early communities consolidate the sacramental, institutional and missionary form of the Church. Successors in the apostolic ministry are no longer chosen by lot once the Spirit has been received. They are chosen through the community’s prayer and discernment, through the laying on of hands and the sending on mission. These things happen not just interiorly or abstractly, but exteriorly and concretely, in the communion of the Church, the Body of Christ, whose relationships and institutions reflect, however faintly at times, the sending of the Son by the Father and the sending of the Spirit by the Father and the Son.

This year again new Christians have been baptized and during these days many are being confirmed. They are being consecrated in the truth, becoming parts of Christ’s body and witnesses to his resurrection. By word and example they will build communion in a world which resists it. By loving one another in truth they remain in God and God remains in them.

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