On the Seventh Sunday of Easter we are in prayerful expectation of the coming the Holy Spirit next Sunday at Pentecost, just as the first disciples were. The Easter season concludes in a week with Pentecost. How are we preparing for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
In today’s First Reading, just after the Ascension, the disciples gather, wait, and pray. The angels had to give them a little nudge to see that it was over (see the First Reading for Ascension Thursday), but they’ve taken the hint and come down from the mountain. However, it is not a John 21 moment; they haven’t returned to their day to day affairs as if nothing had happened. Our Lord had promised they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit if they wait, so they don’t just fill their time with mundane little chores; they gather and pray. We are gathered in prayer today, just as we should pray this whole week, awaiting the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Second Reading Peter reminds us that the Holy Spirit will be with us, but the mission we have received will still be tough. Just before his Ascension Our Lord charged the Apostles with going out and baptizing the whole world (see the Gospel for Ascension Thursday). About two millennia have passed. Are we there yet? He promised to be with them always, and that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon them. If you read the Acts of the Apostles you see he was good on his promises, yet every Apostle but one suffered martyrdom. If we suffer in the name of Christ we know that the “Spirit of glory and of God rests” upon us.
In today’s Gospel we’re reminded that even as we wait in prayerful expectation of the Holy Spirit we know that Our glorified Lord is praying for us too at his Father’s right hand. He may have vanished from the world’s sight at the conclusion of his earthly ministry, but now the Risen Lord has concluded his time with his faithful disciples on earth and ascended into Heaven until he returns one day in the future. All the glory Our Lord asks the Father for in today’s Gospel is now being given to him. He spent his time on earth glorifying the Father through doing his will. Now he can grant eternal life: to know God and to know whom he sent. Now he prays for us to take up the torch, lit by the Holy Spirit, and continue his work.
The disciples today teach us the merits and importance of patient and trusting prayer. Our prayer life at times can be very staccato: almost as soon as one petition or expectation escapes our lips in prayer we’re moving to the next one. Sometimes we just keep asking for immediate things, skeptical Our Lord will truly help. If you’ve never really striven to persevere in prayer for something, now is the time to start. Perseverant prayer is also realistic prayer. Sometimes we try to tie Our Lord’s hands by asking for something very specific in a very specific way. Specificity is okay, but it must be combined with openness to God’s will. In Our Lord’s most anguished prayer in Gethsemane he said, “not my will, by thine be done.”
We all have prayer intentions that are very important to us, faced with dire situations. When tempted by discouragement it’s important to remember all the little prayers Our Lord has answered throughout your life. Good weather on a day you plan to picnic. Good results on an exam. A clean bill of health at the doctor’s office when some ache or pain has worried you. Thanking Our Lord whenever things work out, even if you didn’t dedicate a lot of prayer time, helps to foster more trust that he wants what’s best for you. Remember: he knows what you need before you ask.
Readings: Acts 1:12–14; Psalm 27:1, 4, 7–8; 1 Peter 4:13–16; John 17:1–11a. See also Ascension of the Lord, Cycle A.