13 May 2018
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Easter 7B (RCL)
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
For the liturgical year, the Church has adopted Luke’s chronology, but we don’t read Luke’s story each year, so the other Gospels are shoe-horned into Luke’s pattern. In Luke’s pattern, Jesus ascended into heaven (his apotheosis) forty days after his resurrection, so we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday forty days after Easter, but then we read from John’s Gospel this Sunday. For John, there is no real apotheosis, but Jesus is always in the process of going to the Father. On the evening of Easter, he breathes on his disciples to give them the Holy Spirit, so there is no need to wait to Pentecost.
In John’s Gospel, neat historical time-frames, as well as cosmic boundaries, are intentionally blurred. Jesus, in a prayer to which his disciples are listening, prays, “Now, I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” Where is Jesus? With the Father? With the disciples? That’s John’s point — yes, both. “I am in you and you in me, and the Father abides with us.” All those lines are blurred. John doesn’t need to narrate an ascension. It’s happening in the midst of the community hearing the Gospel.
There is a strand of Anglican tradition that reads the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel as Jesus’ eucharistic prayer. John can’t narrate the eucharist, because Jesus hasn’t yet been sacrificed, as the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. But at this prayer, Jesus is consecrating himself to be that sacrifice, which will be completed on the cross. Now that Jesus is no longer in the world (remember the first disciples’ question to Jesus, “Rabbi, where to you remain (or abide), and his response, “Come and see.”), his disciples take his place. Jesus sends them into the world, just as the Father sent him. He consecrates himself in truth, and then asks God to consecrate them in truth. That’s a frightening prospect. Under the conditions of the fall, the divine self-gift of the Second Person of the Trinity back to the first will always have something of the crucifixion about it. Our gift of ourselves to God in the eucharist will always have something of the crucifixion about it. We become the Body of Christ for the life of the world.