WAITING AND BECOMING ONE – Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A

May 21, 2023

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
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Acts 1:12-14
Psalm 27:1, 4, 7-8 (13)
1 Peter 4:13-16
John 17:1-11a

Some of my friends have expressed relief that Advent lasts for just four weeks each year. Waiting, which is at the heart of Advent, just seems too difficult as holiday festivities are launching into full swing well before the first “Come, Lord Jesus” is heard in church.

Waiting, of course, is not widely valued or practiced in the consumerist culture of North America. Even in the throes of pandemic isolation, many of us relished the ability to place online orders with the promise of next- or same-day delivery. The recent shortage of microchips and other supply chain difficulties caused massive delays in the availability of new cars and other goods, resulting in inconvenience and dissatisfaction for those who had to wait.

Today’s Scripture readings suggest that the willingness to wait is far more important than we might like to think. Waiting—patient, prayerful waiting—is an integral element of the Christian life in every season.

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has been waiting for his “hour.” He famously told his mother at the wedding feast in Cana, for example, that the shortage of wine was not really his concern, since his “hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). In today’s passage—the last portion of the Farewell Discourse—Jesus signals that the wait is about to be over. After speaking directly to the disciples at length, he turns to God in prayer: “Father, the hour has come” (Jn 17:1). Jesus addresses God directly and makes explicit the transition he is about to make from ministry to passion.

In these last moments before he and the disciples go out to the garden where he will be arrested, Jesus waits with his disciples and prays for them earnestly. Because they will soon have to live without his physical presence, Jesus prays that they will be protected from those who would harm them, and “that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:11). He has taught them that he is one with God and that because he lives in them, they are one with him and with God. Now he prays that they will be one with each other.

The history of the church unfortunately shows just how difficult it has been for Christians to live in a spirit of unity. Over the past two thousand years, the community of believers has surely been harmed far more by the scandal of its divisions than by any persecution. Such disunity places an enormous obstacle in the way of carrying out the church’s mission of proclaiming Christ in word and deed. Mahatma Gandhi once remarked, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

This past week I received an email from someone who has been deeply involved in the church for many years but has decided to withdraw, concluding that “church and religion . . . are more detrimental than beneficial for the good of humanity.” His words sting because they point to the failure of the church to live up to Jesus’ prayer for unity. What’s at stake here is not creating or supporting institutions but about forming relationships that characterize God’s kindom, that show forth the love of God that Jesus revealed in his life and ministry.

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts how the very first community was at one, devoting itself to waiting in prayer after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. This core group included the Eleven, the women who had provided for the mission of Jesus from their own resources, the mother of Jesus, and members of his family. This tiny community was united in prayer and in waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If they had simply relied on their own efforts, their movement would have come to nothing. Yet by remaining together in prayer and waiting, they would be available to receive the power of the Spirit.

Christians today are deeply divided, all too often emphasizing differences and insisting on their unique structures, governance, and practices. Today’s Scriptures challenge us to care as deeply about unity as Jesus did. A first step is to affirm all that we have in common, humbly recognizing that the church is more than any institution, denomination, or congregation. Unity can be achieved only by doing as the early community did–waiting in prayer, open to the Spirit who alone can transform us and make us one.

A Hymn for Today: “Unidos / Together”

This hymn, a fitting response to the prayer of Jesus that all may be one, was created by songwriter Benjamin Villanueva, who was born in General Teràn, N.L., Mexico, and was a member of El Mesias, Methodist Church of Mexico. The English translation was prepared by George Lockwood, an American Methodist missionary in Costa Rica, who collected hymns in Spanish and Portuguese from all over Latin America. Listen here.

Unidos, unidos, en tu nombre unidos,
Unidos, unidos, en tu nombre unidos,
Pues en este mundo paz y amor tendremos,
Pues en este mundo paz y amor tendremos.
Unidos, siempre unidos, tomados de la mano,
iremos por elm undo cantando al amor.

La gloria de Jesús, al fin resplandecerá
y el mundo llenará de amor y de paz.
La gloria de Jesús, al fin resplandecerá
y el mundo llenará de amor y de paz,
de amor y de paz, de amor y de paz.

Together, together, in your name we gather,
Together, together, in your name we gather,
Then we’ll have in this world peace and love around us,
Then we’ll have in this world peace and love around us.
Together we’re united; we hold hands as we struggle;
We walk into the world singing God’s song of love.

The glory of Jesus will ever shine forth in splendor,
The whole world will be joyful with love and peace.
The glory of Jesus will ever shine forth in splendor,
The whole world will be joyful with love and peace,
with love and peace, with love and peace.

Text: Benjamin Villanueva, tr. George Lockwood, b. 1946
Tune: UNIDOS, Benjamin Villanueva
© 1983, Benjamin Villanueva. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: In the Beginning, Brian Whelan, b. 1957

“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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