7th Sunday of Easter - Sent Into the World

We are approaching the great Feast of Pentecost - the celebration that reminds us that the Spirit of God is preeminently present and at work in the lives of God's people. The first Pentecost brought excitement, passion, and courage to the Christian community.  It completed their sense of identity and clarified their mission. Most importantly, it filled them with power, assured them of the strength they would need to witness to the Gospel, to overcome the spirit of the world, to drive away the darkness of sin and evil.

In the experience of this Spirit, the first Christians discovered joy and peace.  The Spirit provided for all of their needs.  It satisfied their deepest hungers and longings.  It gave them a reason to live and a reason to die.  It filled them with abiding hope, and assured them of final victory and fullness of life with the Risen Lord.

In this week's Gospel reading Jesus is about to enter the last few days of his life on earth. The events of those days, His last meal with His friends, His betrayal, abuse and mockery of a trial, and His crucifixion and death provide a backdrop for the prayer He prays for His disciples

As He prepared His disciples for the coming of the Spirit, Jesus prays in a very loving and intimate way for those to whom he is entrusting his mission.  But his prayer looks far beyond these first disciples.  His hunger is for faith; he wants future generations to accept him as Lord and Savior, as the full and final revelation of the Father's love.  His thirst is for Truth… he consecrated himself for his friends, so that they may be consecrated in that Truth.

Jesus prays to His Heavenly Father for those who are dear to Him, but he knows that it will not be his miracles that will engender this kind of faith; it will not be his message that sparks this kind of truth.  Only when the lives of his followers project a unique and genuine oneness will their witness be authentic and compelling. 

Consequently we see him praying for four things - unity, joy, holiness and mission; "Father - keep them safe, keep them united ('that they may be one'), keep them joyful ('that they may have my joy'), keep them consecrated ('sanctify them in the truth'), keep them mobilized for the mission ('so I have sent them into the world')."

These men and women represented all those that would believe in the future; these disciples were the beginning of the Christian community.  When all is said and done, a religious community, and its doctrines and beliefs, are finally judged by the kind of people it produces.  The ultimate question must be, "what kind of people does that community produce?"

Jesus left his followers with a mission that would provide the impetus for all they did; to take the knowledge of salvation in Christ to the entire world - no small task. This mission provides focus and meaning for our existence, without which we would become complacent. As we know, complacency lends itself to a great degree of vulnerability. It is only as we stay focused on the mission Jesus gave us that we remain alert and ready to advance the Kingdom of God.

There are implications in the prayer of Jesus that focus very strongly on our unity.  "Father, keep them in your name that they may be one as we are one."  Whenever we who claim to be his followers fail in any way to be fully one with each other, we jeopardize the credibility of the Gospel. If our commitment to unity is half-hearted, or if our faith communities are not totally inclusive, in every way, we fall short of the ideal that Jesus insists must be the hallmark of his church.  Intolerance is a sign both of arrogance and ignorance, for it is a sign that a person believes that there is no truth beyond the truth they see. 

The search for truth and the need for truthful communication is an absolutely basic human need.  We are taught from earliest childhood to tell the truth.  We grow up expecting that people around us speak truth to us: parents, teachers, clergy, doctors, elected leaders.  Then we discover that truth is a rather rare commodity   that it is rather easily hidden or compromised.  We ourselves find it difficult to say exactly what we think and feel.  We don't want to offend; we don't want to get involved; we don't want to take sides.

Jesus prays that those who choose to become his disciples will put aside all divisive and exclusive attitudes of mind and heart.  As they come to understand and live his Gospel, they must accept one another as brothers and sisters, regardless of differences in age, race and condition.  They must rise above all prejudice and bias.  They must manifest heartfelt concern for one another's needs and hurts. 

It is only then that they will discover the Truth.  And with the discovery, they will be compelled to proclaim from the mountaintops the gift that God has so freely given us, the gift of His Son.  Those who look from outside the community must be able to say, with wonder and amazement, "See how these Christians love one another!"

As we read the Gospels and relive the mystery of Spirit in our daily lives, we must change all of the verbs from the past tense to the present. Pentecost is our rebirth in the Spirit.  That original fire must burn in us.  This gift must bring excitement, passion and courage to us.  We must shake off complacency, intolerance, and indifference. The Spirit must become our strength, our light, our hope, and our joy.  It must become the driving force for all activity.

Wherever men and women live in the kind of peace and justice that is the fruit of unity and truth, that miracle then proclaims the presence of God.