SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
USCCB link to all three readings
Jesus said to his disciples:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him."
For most of the country the Sixth Sunday of Easter precedes the last two major feasts of the Easter Season, the Ascension of the Lord [May 28] and Pentecost Sunday [June 4]. The exception is the collection of dioceses that celebrate the Ascension on Thursday, May 25; there is a Missal/Lectionary format at the USCCB site for a “Seventh Sunday of Easter” for those dioceses to use on the weekend of May 28. Given that the Café is based in the territory of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, where the Ascension is celebrated on Sunday, I will use that dating format. “When in Rome…or Disneyworld.”
Over the past Sundays of the Easter Season there has been a shift in emphasis in the Sunday Lectionary from Gospel narratives of the Resurrection appearances themselves to intimate revelations of the mystery of the works of God and how these will continue when Jesus returns to the Father. When the Roman liturgy was reformed after Vatican II, considerable effort was made to unite the three feasts of Redemption—Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. This is one reason that many dioceses switched the Feast of the Ascension to a Sunday, out of concern that Catholics—notoriously lax about Mass attendance on holy days—would not miss the observance of a significant feast of salvation. Incidentally, there is no compelling theological reason to celebrate the Ascension on a Thursday, as the New Testament itself does not agree on the timing; St. John places the Ascension on Easter Sunday!
The unity of these three feasts reflects the Trinitarian nature of the Easter Season: the Father loves the Son, raises and glorifies the Son, who in turn sends forth the Spirit. In addressing this Sunday’s Gospel, it is helpful to bear in mind that what we read here may be the early Church’s coming to grips with the Trinitarian concept, a belief that was finally put into a creed statement at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. [Somewhat ironically, the Feast of Trinity Sunday was moved outside of the Easter Season in the 1970 reform, though it still falls on the Sunday after Pentecost.]
In his Anchor Bible Commentary, Father Raymond Brown observes that Jesus speaks of his disciples’ loving him, adding that this is an unusual New Testament phrasing. Through most of the Gospels—including John’s—Jesus calls forth belief in him, but infrequently love. In this context love is equated to keeping “my commandments,” a parallel to the Hebrew Scriptures where God calls forth love and fidelity from the Israelites precisely through the observance of the Law. In the context of St. John’s writings—particularly 1 John 3—the thrust of “keeping my commandments” is love, or more specifically, a lifestyle in which one would lay down one’s life for a friend.
Living in this way unites one to Jesus, and not only to Jesus, but to his Father and the Spirit Advocate. Brown identifies “divine indwelling” as a major theme of this text (and others in St. John’s sequence.) “On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” In another place in the text Jesus states that the Father will send an Advocate; later Jesus says that “I will come to you.” From a purely objective reading, one gets a sense of confusion; what is actually expressed is the mysterious unity of “persons” in the Trinity as later Church Councils would put it. I can recall my early catechism speaking of the mystery of the Trinity as “three in one,” or more precisely, “how can something be one and three at the same time?” [And sister said, “this is a mystery. “So did the pastor in his Trinity Sunday sermon.] St. Patrick supposedly used a clover to teach the Trinity to the Celts—the Irish are fortunate he did not randomly choose a four-leaf clover.
Seen through the eyes of faith, Sunday’s reading also addresses “human indwelling” with God. I was teaching at a Catholic school yesterday when a faculty member described to me her first realization/sensation that through her baptism God was inside her, a very accurate theological way of putting it. The poetic language of Sunday’s Gospel is Jesus’ statement of humanity’s purpose—love God by loving one’s neighbor, and thus be enfolded into the fullness of the life of the very Trinity. Sacramental action renders this enfolding visible—consuming the body and blood of Jesus at the Eucharist, for example—as John 6 argues so vividly. Sunday’s Gospel thus sets the stage for the two feasts that follow, Ascension and Pentecost. We celebrate these feasts not as observers but as witnesses of our own identity and destiny—if we “love one another.”