Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Seventh Sunday of Easter Year B

Seventh Sunday of Easter Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts of the Apostles 1: 15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; I John 5: 9-13; John 17: 6-19

After the ascension of Christ and before the feast of Pentecost, Luke provides this explanation of the fate of Judas in another sermon by Peter, this time before 120 "brethren." The role and fate of Judas, he explains, was foretold in the scriptures. To fill his place, two men are put forward, who were genuine witnesses of the entirety of Jesus' public life-- from baptism to ascension. After a prayer expressing confidence that the Lord will identify the right person one is selected by drawing lots.

The psaltery begins with this description of the posture of the wise person: she does not walk with the wicked, stand with those who offend God, nor sit with scoffers, but instead follows the way of "the Lord's teachings."

Accepting or rejecting human testimony is to be expected, but rejecting God's "testimony" jeopardizes life itself. "The Son" is God's "testimony!"

While still at table with his disciples for their last meal together before his arrest, kangaroo court and execution, Jesus offers in John's narrative a lengthy discussion of the significance of his life, death and resurrection, culminating in this prayer to the Father for the future of his followers after his ascension. Jesus reveals that they were given to him by the Father and now he returns them to the care of the Father. "While I was with them, I protected them in your name...." And all were protected, "except the one destined to be lost...." They will experience the same derision and skepticism that I endured, Jesus continues to pray. "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one." "Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth."

These readings assigned for the space in the liturgical calendar between the return of Christ to the Father and the dramatic gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost address the situation of those who did not know Christ in his public ministry, but read about him in the accounts of the testimony of others. This is, of course, the situation of those who will read these words about Jesus in the gospels with Luke's second volume about the Acts of the Apostles. And that includes us. We live on this side of the resurrection/ascension. In the absence of first hand experience with Jesus, we rely on the testimony of others. We test that testimony and decide if it is true for us.

Michel de Certeau (1925-1986), trained and ordained as a Jesuit, had an intellect that ranged over many contemporary questions. In the middle of his publishing career, 1971, he wrote an enduring essay, "How is Christianity Thinkable Today?" He ponders the situation considered in the appointed biblical readings for this last Sunday of Eastertide, the situation of those of us who know of Christ
after his departure from human history.

These excerpts speak for themselves. They are taken from
The Postmodern God, (Graham Ward, ed., pp 135-158)

"However it is taken, Christianity implies a
relationship to the event which inaugurated it: Jesus Christ." Which has "...two contradictory characteristics: the will to be faithful to the inaugural event: the necessity of being different from these beginnings." (p. 142) "Whatever types of transmission or of reading of the 'original' exist, they never repeat the Gospel, but they would be impossible without the Gospel." "(This fidelity is not a repetition or an objective survival of a past.) Each explication postulates the reference to a past event that makes other expressions possible." (p. 143) "But this fidelity itself is not an objective kind. It is linked with the absence of the object or of the particular past which inaugurated it. The past is not our security. Beside the first statement of this fidelity (possible only after the disappearance of Jesus) is the Scripture, supposing its own conditions, the death of the 'Son of Man.' The Christian language begins with the disappearance of its 'author.' That is to say Jesus effaces himself to give faithful witness to the father who authorizes him, and to 'give rise' to different but faithful communities, which he makes possible." "The process of the death (the absence) and the survival (the presence) of Jesus continues in each Christian experience." (p. 145) "Christianity is still capable of opening a new space... discovering of a living necessity (linked to the disappearance of an objective security because this truth has the form of a creative, risked freedom...." (p. 147) "For Jesus to die, [and be removed from human place and time] is to 'make room' for the Father and at the same time 'make room' for the polyglot and creative community of Pentecost, for the plurality of Scriptures, for the multiplicity of the future Christian generations." (p. 150)

The accounts we read as the church's scripture are addressed "to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." (I John 5:13) Now,
we are the witnesses and the builders of God's reign! We cannot, "repeat" the original event. Instead, we are engaged in a necessary "polyglot and creative community of Pentecost."