Sunday 24th May – 7th Sunday of Easter


Collect

Risen, ascended Lord,
as we rejoice at your triumph,
fill your Church on earth with power and compassion,
that all who are estranged by sin
may find forgiveness and know your peace,
to the glory of God the Father.

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First Reading

Acts 1.6-14

When the apostles had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’  He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’  When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’  Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.  When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

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 Gospel

John 17.1-11

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.  So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.  I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’

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 Post Communion Prayer

Eternal God, giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom:
confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Easter 7 – Reflection

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Those words which we heard a little earlier in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles are charged with power.

In his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, the biblical scholar, Joseph Fitzmeyer says that this is the “programmatic verse” of Acts; it sets the scope of the spread of the Word of God, the goal that the commissioned apostles are to attain as they bring that Word from Jerusalem “to the ends of the earth.”

And, in fact, this verse might also be said to set the programme for the Christian life; we who are followers of the Risen Christ are also called to be his witnesses wherever we go.

Yet this commission was not just for the apostles? If that were so, the witnessing would have come to an end centuries ago, when the last of the apostles died.  The commission is for all us! The commission is for all us who are called to be part of the royal priesthood of all believers. Just as Jesus said, “Follow me,” he also said, “Be my witnesses.” So that is precisely what we are about as Christians.

And what is a ‘witness’ anyway? A dictionary definition says: “One who has seen or heard something and who can give evidence for its occurrence.” And also: “One who signs her or his name to a document for the purpose of attesting to its authenticity.”

But then, how are we, living in the 21st century, in a place that the apostles never even heard of, to be witnesses to something that happened 2,000 years ago, in a place most of us have never seen?  Yes we’ve heard the words of scripture; we know the story, but does that make us witnesses? Can we give evidence of the occurrence of these things? We weren’t even there!

Let’s look more closely at what Jesus said. It’s true that the apostles had been witnesses to all that Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry, but what Jesus says in today’s reading is, “you will be my witnesses.” Our testimony is about him, not just about what happened long ago and far away. We are to give evidence about what we ourselves have heard, seen, experienced. We can’t be witnesses unless we have met the Risen Christ—unless our lives have been transformed by him.  Only when we can speak of the presence of God in our lives and in the world, then, and only then, can we be his witnesses.

And yet, this is something that we, as Christians, probably do a lot more often than we realise. St. Francis of Assisi said it well: “Proclaim the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” How many people in our own life have been witnesses to us?  Not just in words, but by deeds too?

Who have been the figures in our lives who have inspired and encouraged us, both by their word and by their example, in our life in Christ? We are called to do the same, and this call is not just issued to us individually, but also to us as members of the Body of Christ.  We should be seriously considering how we are called, in this place and at this time, to be his witnesses.

Possibly, we don’t think of ourselves in that way. Nevertheless, if Jesus calls us to be witnesses then we need to prepare ourselves for just that. But what do we need to do? How can we get started? It would appear from today’s reading that two things are necessary.

First of all, of course, we can do nothing through our own power. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Jesus said. As we await the glorious feast of Pentecost next Sunday, let us pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all of us, both corporately and individually. It is only when we are clothed with power from on high that we can do the work he calls us to do.

The second thing that we must do is reflected toward the end of the reading from Acts: “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” The communal prayer and harmony reflected in the stories from the Acts of the Apostles should serve as a model for our own church community. Any disunity in the Body of Christ will always be an obstacle to the effectiveness of the witness we bear. As the Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died that we might all be one, so we must pray and act as one.

God’s call comes to each one of us.  What is he specifically calling you to do?  And, just as importantly, how are you going to respond?

Amen