Thursday, May 19, 2011

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day Year A

Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68: 1-10,33-36; I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Luke uses language and symbolism similar to his description of the "transfiguration" of Jesus to now describe his "ascension." Both incidents in Luke validate the link between the earthly life and ministry of Jesus to God's work in the world through him at pivotal points in Luke's narrative. Mt Olivet, where Luke places Jesus' return and departing words to his followers, was identified by Zechariah as the place God will manifest God's reign. The disciples return to the "upper room," in which so many crucial conversations between Jesus and his followers took place to prepare them for the time they would continue his work after he was gone.

"The Hebrew text is a mixture of strong and memorable lines with phrases and whole clauses that look fragmentary and scrambled," says Robert Alter of psalm 68. (The Book of Psalms, 2007, p. 229)

The epistle which honors Peter makes a promise: God will "restore, support, strengthen and establish you."

In John's narrative, Jesus has just told his disciples tat they will scatter/abandon him.  Next, Jesus "looked up to heaven" and addressed "the Father" directly: "the hour has come...."  He prays that the Father will "glorify" the Son, so that "the Son may glorify you...."  Still addressing the Father, Jesus identifies the way he has glorified the Father, "by finishing the work you gave me to do."  John's narrative references the bold opening lines of his gospel with Jesus asking the Father: "glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed."  Jesus' prayer returns to the purpose of his "work," which can further be described as "to make your name known top those whom you gave me from this world."  These followers were "yours, and you gave them to me."  Now the full-blown purpose of the Father's entrusting these followers to Jesus is stated explicitly: "the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me."  It is for their sake, Jesus asks, that you, "Holy Father, protect them in your name... so that they may be one, as we are one."

The biblical texts are a self-affirming loop. The texts themselves, which are
testimony of words from God and about God, are life giving. Each generation and indeed each person who encounters these words has an opportunity to know personally their continuing, enduring impact. Reading, learning, and continuous re-reading, and endless interpreting and endless testing their validity in practice to our own personal satisfaction and personal ownership provide a confrontation with their unique perspective.

Jean-Luc Marion writes helpfully that this encounter is "less an undetermined, ambiguous and sterile groping, than
the absolutely infinite unfolding of possibilities already realized in the Word, but not yet in us and our words (emphasis added); in short, the infinite freedom of the Word in our words and reciprocally. We are infinitely free in theology: we find all already given, gained, available. It only remains to understand, to say and to celebrate. So much freedom frightens us, deservedly." (God Without Being, p. 158)

All that needs to be said has been said in the biblical texts, but that settles nothing. Where and in whom they are personally appropriated, they will "restore, support, strengthen, establish." That is the promise. God's work in the world continues. (A timely reminder to the church on the Sunday before Pentecost.)