Acts 6:1-7 1 Peter 2:4-9 John 14:1-12
We’ve just passed the midpoint between Easter and Pentecost, and so we begin to turn our focus from the meaning of the resurrection to the role of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. But before we turn our gaze toward Pentecost let’s review the message of the last four weeks.
On Easter Sunday we pondered the empty tomb through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Peter looked into the tomb and was confused because it was obvious to him that the body had not been stolen by enemies because the burial cloths were neatly folded and placed at either end of the burial slab. What happened to Jesus? John looked into the tomb after Peter. The gospel tells us that when he looked in “he saw and believed.” What did he believe? Mary Magdalene was so taken up by her personal grief that she didn’t recognize Jesus who had appeared to her outside the tomb. He had to called her name to wake her up to the new reality of his resurrection. Why did Mary need to have her name called before she recognized Jesus? These individual reactions serve as an invitation to each of us to explore our own faith response to the resurrection.
The gospel of the second Sunday of Easter brought us to the upper room on Easter Sunday where the disciples were in hiding. Jesus appeared to them, showed them his wounds, and then breathed his Spirit into each of them. Overjoyed, they reported the event to Thomas who wasn’t there when Jesus had appeared. Thomas refused to believe them. The following Sunday they were all together, including Thomas. Jesus again appeared. He asked Thomas to touch his hands and his side. He was real. He was alive. Thomas responded with a profound profession of faith, “My Lord, and my God!” This is an important lesson for us. The account is warning us not to abandon our connection the faith Community because it’s in that context that we’ll come to see him.
The third Sunday of Easter reinforced the lesson from the previous week. The Gospel gave the account of two disciples fleeing Jerusalem on the day of the resurrection. They had heard that some people claimed to have seen Jesus, but the claim wasn’t enough to keep them in the city. They were too afraid. They decided to seek safety in Emmaus, a town outside Jerusalem. A stranger met up with them as they walked along. It was Jesus. But like Mary Magdalene, they didn’t recognize him. In the course of the journey he explained all the prophecies about the Messiah to them. They later said that as they conversed, something in them began to respond to him at a very deep level. It peaked when they sat down to eat with him. When he broke the bread and blessed it, they recognized him. Jesus then disappeared. Only the bread that he broke remained with them. They immediately returned to Jerusalem. They told the group of disciples that “He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” Two weeks in a row we have been reminded of the importance of the Sunday gathering – the Eucharistic assembly. Thomas met the risen Lord at the Sunday gathering. The two disciples sat down for the Sunday meal and recognized him when he broke the break. The scriptures are clear. We will meet him in our communal celebration of the Eucharist.
The fourth Sunday shifted our view from the resurrection to the cross. In the first reading, we listened to Peter’s Pentecost speech when he told the crowd to look at the cross to discover how to “follow in his footsteps.” In the Gospel of that day, Jesus declared that he is the good shepherd. He invited us to follow him so that we could “have life and have it more abundantly.”
The scriptures for this Sunday teach us that by forgiving those who “do not know what they are doing,” by mourning with those crying “my God why have you abandoned me,” by promising the hopeless that, “today you will be with me in paradise,” we mount the cross with him. At that moment the glory of the resurrection will begin to shine within us and on the world around us.
This week, the fifth week of Easter, we witness Jesus beginning to prepare his disciples, and that means us, for his return to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He began with words of encouragement. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He’s speaking to the disciples who are seated around him, but he’s reaching out – way past them. Recall what he said to Thomas the Sunday after the resurrection. “Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.” This teaching is meant for us – you and me. So….
Let’s put our minds in the right place before we go on with this teaching. When we read about the resurrection we might sometimes think – I wish I could have been with those disciples, so that I could have seen him. I wish I could have eaten with him. I wish I could have spoken with him. We have to be careful. That voice speaking inside us is an old voice. It’s the voice from the past, from the pre-resurrection days. It comes from that old part of us that needed to be redeemed. In the New Testament, we hear that voice in those who need to see signs before they believe. Again, remember Thomas, the spokesperson for the old voice. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Isn’t all his doubt coming from that old part of him? We’re in a new time, the time of the Spirit. So, let’s begin to listen to this teaching in a new way.
Jesus begins by telling us, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” If you’re saying to yourself, “This is so encouraging. Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven – after I die!” you’re speaking to yourself with the old voice. That’s not what Jesus is saying at all! Jesus’ teachings are always about the NOW. They don’t look back to the past. They don’t look into the future.
Jesus is describing the time of the Spirit. He’s teaching the disciples about a new NOW. Speaking of his departure he tells them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Jesus isn’t returning to the Father alone. He’s bringing us with him. In fact, he’s bringing all of creation with him, every thing and person from the very first moment of the Big Bang.
If we truly believe this, the conclusion of his teaching will have a profound influence on our lives as Christians. “The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
We have so much to think about as we begin to refocus our sights on the presence of the Spirit in us. Jesus continues with this teaching in next Sunday’s Gospel passage. But for now, I suggest that you return to this week’s passage in prayerful meditation. Silence the old voice within you. Listen to the new voice as you revisit the passage. Make sure you allow Jesus to teach you directly. Don’t think about the past or the future. Place yourself in the NOW and remember: “Blessed (how happy) are those who have not seen and have believed.”