Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

A warm word of welcome to all of you who are joining us online for this Mass. Especially to those seniors who are graduating from Brown and RISD, congratulations on this special occasion! This is a day to remember. It’s certainly not the day any of us expected, but the unexpected things in life often prove to be the most memorable. Students, you might remember me saying that repetition aids memory. Well, novelty, too, aids memory. The novel coronavirus has given us a lot to remember, even if we’d rather forget it.

Seniors, you’re missing out on a lot this year, as are the thousands of family members and alumni who would be joining you this weekend to celebrate. You’re probably missing campus. You’re missing one another. You’re missing the experience of walking through the Van Wickle Gates.

And, Commencement aside, we all feel a tremendous loss these days. So many have lost people they loved. Perhaps the economic climate has meant the loss of a job, or reduced the likelihood of finding one. And we’ve all felt the loss of a sense of security and safety that perhaps we’ve taken for granted.

So what is left for us? Let’s search for good news in today’s gospel. Our gospel reading comes from the Lord’s great High Priestly Prayer that he offered at the Last Supper.

the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you….glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.

If his words sound a bit cryptic to us, it’s because he’s not talking to us. This is a special Trinitarian prayer between the Father and the Son--a communication that is so intimate that the words spoken are bound to confuse us.

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of overhearing two people deeply in love speak to one another. Where the actual words uttered suggest a knowing and a loving that is far deeper than words alone can convey. Perhaps it’s not for us to understand the full meaning of the words.

But even if Jesus is not speaking to us, he is speaking about us.

I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.

On this Sunday, we find ourselves in the time of Jesus’ Ascension. Here in Providence, we celebrated the feast last Thursday; in many places, it’s celebrated today. I think the Ascension just might be the key. After Jesus rises from the dead and ascends into heaven, he takes up this high priestly prayer again, not simply with words that are limited by the limitation that all words have. He offers this prayer in and through his body that is now present in all its glory before the Father.

As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he lives forever to make intercession for us. No longer limited by the conditions of an earthly life. No longer harmed by the vicissitudes of this world. He stands in heaven on behalf of us who are assailed by the vicissitudes of this world--who are weighed down by anxiety, sadness, frustration, and sin.

Let’s remember that Jesus’ first act in heaven is to send the holy Spirit upon the Church. The first reading from Acts tells us how after Jesus’ Ascension, the apostles went to the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer. When I hear of the upper room, I always think of Manning Chapel, our own “upper room” where for decades our community has gathered for prayer, where the holy Spirit has come upon us.

No doubt the graces and gifts and blessings we’ve experienced during our years on campus are owing to Jesus in heaven, interceding on our behalf. He has passed through the gates of heaven for our sake. So seniors, if you don’t get to walk through the gates today, don’t worry. Today, let’s at least be strengthened in the faith that Jesus has passed through the gates to help us who are still struggling along the way. And let us do our best to glorify God in the lives we lead. Thanks be to God.

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