Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalms 66:1-7, 16, 20
1 Peter 3:15-18
As we approach the end of the Easter Season, the readings prepare us for Jesus’ physical departure and the bestowal of the “Advocate,” the “Spirit of truth,” whose presence we will celebrate on Pentecost Sunday. Remember, that in the days just after Easter the readings focused on the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, reinforcing what we celebrate on Easter, Jesus’ departure from the tomb. The visions of Jesus post resurrection result in His bolstering the faith of the disciples, and give Him a chance to prepare the disciples for a world without the physical presence of Jesus. For several weeks now our Sunday readings have been taken from the great discourse of Jesus that follows the Last Supper, and these will lead us to next Sunday’s celebration of the Ascension, and to the following Sunday’s celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, the end of the Easter Season.
It is understandable that the Lord who showed such compassion during His brief earthly life with us would be concerned about His disciples’ handling of His visible disappearance from their lives. In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of an Advocate who will “be with them always,” and He tells them in what had to be extraordinarily comforting words, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize [what they couldn’t possibly have realized as yet] that I am in the Father and you are in me and I in you.”
The concept of “indwelling” is important to John – we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in us, and all of us are in the Father. What is the sign that this is true? That we keep Jesus’ “commandments.” “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” This “indwelling” explains the special relationship we have with our Savior, and with the entire Trinity, whose feast will be celebrated the weekend following Pentecost. Whether the disciples truly understood what Jesus was saying to them at this time is unclear. But after the Spirit is shared with them, these words, enshrined in John’s gospel, would no doubt come back to them, and give them great comfort.
The admonition from our second reading from the first letter of Peter seems to point to John’s understanding of indwelling: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” he tells his listeners. It is Christ living within us who enables us to do whatever good we do, and it is Christ who gives us a reason to keep hope alive even in the most strenuous of circumstances. It would seem, during this time of coronavirus, and upheavals within our local and universal churches, that Peter’s advice to his listeners is of particular importance. Peter says: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.” We can all appreciate what it is to be maligned, some more than others, and it is Christ, who lives within us, who gives us reason to hope. Indeed, our God is a God who was maligned, who suffered for our sins, “the righteous for the sake of the unrighteousness.” Jesus gives us reason to hope, even in the darkest of times. May we always place our faith and hope in Jesus, who understands our sufferings. Let us “sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts,” never fearing what is ahead, and always finding a reason to hope.