NOTE: Click here for a reflection on the Ascension of the Lord, which many communities observe on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
Revised Common Lectionary
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 97:1-2, 6-7, 9 (1a, 9a)
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
In these last weeks of the Easter season, we hear readings drawn from the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John (13:1 – 17:26). As he gathered for the last time with his disciples before his death and resurrection, Jesus instructs them on how they are to live and carry out his mission. Today we hear the conclusion of that discourse as Jesus shifts from teaching to praying—not only for the disciples but also for all who will come to believe in him through their word (see Jn 17:20).
Interestingly, Jesus does not pray that his followers will be successful or that they might escape persecution. He knows that, like him, they will face failure and opposition.
He prays instead “that they may all be one” (17:21). Surely that deep longing for unity that we hear in the prayer of Jesus resonates today as we are surrounded by so much division. We all know families in which members treat one another with contempt or refuse to speak. We hear white nationalists chanting “You will not replace us,” breathing threats to immigrants of color. We see government officials stoking suspicion of transgender children and their families to score political points. Far too often the powerful encourage division to secure or bolster their own might. Divide and conquer.
Among Christians too the dream of unity seems elusive. How often do followers of Jesus express or even feel real pain over divisions among them? How many of us really share Jesus’ fervent desire to break down the walls that separate us?
The harsh truth is that many of us have become cynical about unity. Too often we have come to accept and even to expect division. Not only do we fail to oppose disunity—we often play into it ourselves.
The unity for which Jesus prayed is not something we can achieve on our own. Like the peace and the love of which he speaks earlier in his farewell, unity is a gift to be received, not a work to be accomplished.
This kind of unity can come about only through open hearts and minds. Division often results from an intolerance of difference—whether of race, ethnicity, language, religion, educational attainment, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, or some other distinction. Unity results not from assimilating or imposing Borg-like uniformity but from cracking open our spirits to receive the indwelling of God and the gift of the other.
Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to make this prayer our own— “that they all may be one” (17:21). If we who are disciples of Jesus can embrace the spirit of this prayer and open our hearts to be at one with those who are different or difficult, we can give witness to the life of the risen One within us, so “that the world might believe” (17:21) and the dream of unity can take root among people everywhere.
A Hymn for Today: “Help Us Accept Each Other”
This text is one of the best known and most significant of more than 200 hymns written by Dutch-born Fred Kaan, FHS, who studied and served as a pastor in Great Britain. This powerful prayer for reconciliation and forgiveness is based on acceptance of the other, concluding with a fervent plea that echoes the prayer of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Lord, free us; make us one!”
Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;
teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us and bring us to believe
we are ourselves accepted, and meant to love and live.
Teach us, O Lord, your lessons, as in our daily life
we struggle to be human and search for hope and faith.
Teach us to care for people, for all, not just for some,
to love them as we find them, or as they may become.
Let your acceptance change us, so that we may be moved
in living situations to do the truth in love;
to practice your acceptance until we know by heart
the table of forgiveness, and laughter’s healing art.
Lord, for today’s encounters with all who are in need,
who hunger for acceptance, for justice and for bread,
we need new eyes for seeing, new hands for holding on:
renew us with your Spirit; Lord, free us; make us one!
Text: Fred Kaan (1929-2009), © 1975, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tunes: ACCEPTANCE, BARONITA, AURELIA
Image Credit: Diversity Illustration, mohamed mahmoud hassan, CCO public domain license
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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