This is the next to last Sunday of Eastertide; next week we will celebrate the solemnity of Pentecost, whereby the liturgical paschal season comes to an end. This Sunday falls within the ten days between the ascension of the Lord and the descent of the Holy Spirit. We are still contemplating Jesus taken up to heaven and already waiting for the fulfillment of his promise to send us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The first reading is somehow related to the mystery of the ascension. Stephen during his trial says: “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” He practically affirms to the Sanhedrin that the prophecy Jesus made before them has been fulfilled. For the Jews this is a blasphemy. If you remember, when Jesus told this during his trial, the High priest tore his garments; now they cry out in a loud voice, throw him away and stone him to death. Stating that Jesus is at the right hand of God means to recognize him as God, to make of a man God. Which is intolerable for the Jews; the core of the Christian faith for us.
The second reading is the conclusion of the book of Revelation. Even in this case there is a reference to the mystery of the ascension. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels said to the apostles: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” In the Creed we profess our faith in Jesus, who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Well, at the end of Revelation Jesus assures us that his return is imminent: “Behold, I am coming soon. I will bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.” Jesus introduces himself with all his titles of rank: “the Alpha and the Omega,” “the first and the last,” “the beginning and the end,” “the root and offspring of David,” “the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride, that is, the Church, answer him: “Come.” And we also are invited to join the same prayer: Come, Lord Jesus! Marana tha was the prayer of the early Christians, who really were waiting for the second coming of the Lord.
The gospel reports the last part of the long discourse of Jesus during the last supper. Jesus concludes his farewell speech with a prayer: it is usually known as the “high priestly prayer.” Jesus is not speaking any more to his disciples; his words are addressed directly to the Father; he is playing the role of the intercessor, the high priest who prays for his disciples. After praying for the disciples at that time, Jesus at the end of his prayer prays for his future disciples: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” We are these ones. What does Jesus ask for us? Unity with him and among us: “That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” It is interesting to notice that this unity is considered by Jesus the way to convert others to him: “That the world may believe that you sent me.” People will not be converted by our words, but only by our witness of unity. Mind you, this unity is not the result of our human efforts; it is a gift of God; that is why Jesus is praying for it.
Before ending, I would like to stress another text of today’s liturgy, that I find very meaningful: the verse before the gospel. It is taken also from the farewell discourse of Jesus during the last supper, but from a previous chapter. Jesus says: “I will not leave you orphans. I will come back to you, and your hearts will rejoice.” I think, in these words of Jesus, we should find our peace: we are not alone, Jesus is with us; he will come back soon, we should await him with joy and pray: Come, Lord Jesus!