Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Seventh Sunday of Ester Year C

Seventh Sunday of Easter C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts  16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21; John 17:20-26

Drawn to the Roman colony of Phillipi in a vision, Paul and Silas and their companions get themselves crosswise with local, powerful interests. Paul commands a "spirit" to come out of a girl owned by those who exploit her for her supposed powers at fortune tellingThey seize Paul and Silas and drag them before the "magistrates," accusing them of disturbing the peace by proselytizing. The mob joins in.  Without a fair trial, "the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods."  They are put in the tightest security jail.  At midnight, there was "an earthquake so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken...."  The violence of the earthquake releases all the prisoners, including Paul and Silas.  Their jailer was so distraught, he was ready to take his own life.  Paul reassures him that all stayed in his jail.  The jailer (filled with fear, gratitude, wonder and emotions without tags) fell in front of Paul and Silas and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"  Their response is direct: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ...."  Paul and Silas "spoke the word" to the jailer.  The jailer took them home, washed their wounds, fed them and was baptized.

The psalmist's initial vision is of God enthroned, surrounded by fire and smoke.  Lightning and earthquakes emanate to earth.  This spectacular display precedes God's ultimate interest: justice.  But this justice is not like "idol worshippers" or "other gods."  This justice has already echoed in the "villages of Judea," and with all who "love the Lord," and who "hate evil."  God protects such souls, so rejoice!

John the Divine's vision reaches is dramatic conclusion; Jesus-- enthroned-- speaks:  "I am coming soon..." and will payout justice according to each person's "work."  Once again, Jesus declares he is "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."  He pronounces a special blessing on "those who wash their robes...."  Jesus identifies that it was he who sent the angel to give testimony of this amazing revelation to the churches through John.  He is both the "root" and the "offspring" of David.  The spirit and "the bride" together say "come," the church responds "come."  Any and all who are "thirsty" should now come to drink "the water of life as a gift."

Having focused on the well-being of his disciples (17:6-19), Jesus' lengthy prayer in John's narrative now turns to "those who will believe in me through their word...."  Jesus makes a startling request-- that all of those who follow will know an intimacy with the first believers as close as Jesus knows with the Father!  And, thereby, "may they [all] also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me."  The "glory" given by the Father to the Son is now shared with those "whom you have given me...."  Going further, Jesus now prays "that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

It is not an original observation, but one worth emphasizing here that Luke seems to be drawing obvious parallels between the treatment of Jesus by religious and political authorities and the treatment of the church.  Like Jesus, Paul and Silas are brought before the Roman authorities on trumped up, jumbled accusations of disturbing the peace as religious trouble makers.  Like Jesus, the charges stemmed from very public displays of a power of healing.  Like Jesus, Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten and thrown in jail.  At midnight (the poetic opposite of noon on Good Friday) there is another earthquake, which this time throws open the prison doors.  Luke tells the story of Paul and Silas so we see them becoming "christs."  

John's gospel narrative establishes an astounding claim: the entire enterprise which Jesus began is handed over to not just those who knew him but to those who will come to believe based on the "words" of those eyewitnesses!  Luke/Acts and John's gospel are bequeathing narratives.  They demonstrate the intention and methods by which Jesus-- with the blessing of the Father and the empowerment of the Spirit-- set in motion this movement called the church as a gift to the world by which God always remains potentially present in the world!

Jean-Luc Marion considers in depth the significance of the departure of Jesus at his ascension.  In the Prolegomena to Charity, Marion writes "...the withdrawal of the Ascension makes the disciples come unto a perfect, though, paradoxical presence in Christ.  Paradoxically for this presence no longer admits any sensible support and, for outside observers, reduces to pure and simple absence.  Perfect, precisely because this presence no longer consists in seeing another, even the Christ, loving, dying and returning to life, but oneself, like him, in him, according to him, actually loving, dying, and returning to life.  Presence: not to find oneself in the presence of Christ, but to become present to him (to declare oneself present, available) in order to receive from hm the present (the gift) of the Spirit who makes us, here and now (in the present), bless him like he blesses the Father-- until and in order that he return.  The highest presence of Christ lies in the Spirit's action of making us, with him and in him, bless the Father." (p. 145)