Sunday Homilies- Fr. Luke Uebler
“When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, but now I am coming to you.” Words from our Gospel today from the 17th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
The readings today describe the apostles in a time of transition, when they are trying to cling to what they have known on the one hand while also realizing that things are no longer what they were before. And for them, the in-between time is very frightening. In the Gospel, Jesus is sitting down with his disciples for the Last Supper. They have just entered triumphantly into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna and their hearts were full of hope for the coming of God’s Kingdom. And they sit down for the Passover meal, prepared for them ahead of time, thinking that this is it, this is what we’ve been waiting for. And then, Jesus announces to them that he will be leaving them, and will be making his return journey to his Father in heaven. WHAT? For the past few years, Jesus was with them, he protected them, guarded them, taught them, performed miracles for them, travelled with them, shared friendship with them, broke bread with them. But if we think back to the days of Holy Week, we know how quickly everything changed. All of sudden, Jesus became public enemy #1 and was crucified, the disciples split and denied Jesus, and they locked themselves in the Upper Room out of fear. What a big change and adjustment to make! And then in the first reading, we see that they are still trying to figure things out and make sense of their new reality. At this point, Jesus has risen and appeared to them, and has just ascended to the Father as he said, which we celebrated last week. But the Holy Spirit hadn’t come yet, and they were trying to figure out what comes next. At one point, in one of the other Gospel accounts, Peter declares to everyone, “I am going fishing.” Without instructions as to the next step and not sure where to turn next, it’s almost as if he is returning to his old way of life. Except once again, he doesn’t catch anything. Poor Peter – there is no going back to the old, futile ways. As we know, the Lord appears on the shore, helps him catch 153 large fish, and questions Peter’s love for him. So here again today, the disciples are gathered together, rethinking their priorities, reordering their lives, and trying to reconstitute their community. If they are to further the teachings of Jesus and continue his ministry they will have to learn how to navigate this period of transition.
Change is a part of life. We all go through major transitions during our lifetime. Some of these are quite common, like marriage and childbirth, illness and diminishment, or separation through deployment, moving to a new home, or death. Other changes are startingly thrust upon us, like displacement because of war, sudden unemployment, or loss through natural disasters, not to mention the Pandemic. Nobody asked for such things… Such times force us to look anew at our circumstances in order to discover how we will rebuild. Jesus’ concern for his disciples amid this time of change comes out in the prayer he offers to his Father revealed to us in our Gospel today. This prayer is known as the priestly prayer of Jesus. He prays for unity, for joy, for protection from evil; Jesus asks that his disciples to be kept in the Father’s name and be consecrated to him, even as the world changes all around them. He knows they need something to hold onto. Jesus is hoping that they would hold fast to the word that he gave them, and would practice the love he showed them while still here on earth, so that whatever comes, his disciples could follow Jesus into the unchanging & eternal life of heaven.
Easter is indeed 50 days of celebrating, but it also represents a time of adjustment as the new reality of the resurrection pervades our hearts and minds, and lends itself to a new way of living altogether as Christian disciples. We take it for granted that Jesus’ disciples didn’t have everything figured out right away. There was no New Testament as of yet. There was no collection of Church teachings. They didn’t have the wisdom of the saints to follow. They didn’t have their liturgical calendar marked to say that the Holy Spirit is coming next week Sunday at Pentecost. They had to forge ahead into the unknown and start something new. And they did that by holding fast to what they knew. When the community was faced with circumstances it could not adequately explain, it turned to the scriptures they had for guidance, quoting Psalm 109, “may another take his office” referring to Judas’ situation. They reconstituted themselves as the Twelve after the pattern of their immediate past as well as their tribal past, the 12 tribes of Israel. That 120 people were gathered together, shows that kept to their Jewish roots, for this was the number required to set up the local Sanhedrin, the governing body constituted by pharisaic standards to make religious decisions. When Jesus wasn’t there to handpick the next member of the Twelve, they cast lots, which was the ancient custom for determining God’s will, and not leaving it to chance. Ultimately, they trusted in Jesus, who had prayed for them, and who had entrusted them to each other asking that they would be unified as the Father and Son are one, and who had loved them from the beginning.
When we find ourselves in the midst of life’s changes, we can find it difficult to see what that next step is for us as well. It took some time for the disciples to adjust to their new reality. So, let us be gentle with ourselves in the midst of the changes thrown at us by life. Easter for you may be 50 days or 50 months or 50 years even to realize all the implications of what the resurrection and coming of the spirit means, and figure out the next step that Jesus is asking us to undertake. In this world, change is inevitable, but how we face change is up to us. Disciples face change together with Jesus. Like the disciples of old, if we hold fast to Jesus, if we stay away from evil, if we listen to his word and practice the way of love that God has revealed to us, amidst all the changes, we will have an anchor to cling to, we will remain in God and God in us, and we will face these changes together with his grace, and know peace and joy and safety in the midst of it all.