He had been telling the apostles about his crucifixion and death. The possibility of losing him terrified them.
But he rose again.
This too was a shock, a big one. It was “unbelievable” for many of them, in the full sense of the word. We see this when they simply refused to accept it! But in time they got over the resurrection shock. All of them, even Philip, could throw away the sorrows of crucifixion and death and have some real joy for a change.
And then he told them he was going away again, this time forever. Actually, he did not exactly tell them, he let them overhear his great prayer to the Father. (7 Easter Gospel) A really huge jolt. If it were me I would feel whiplash. First, insurmountable sorrow and loss, followed by out-of-your-mind astonishment and joy, followed by goodbye forever.
How does Jesus console them?
You and I, just like the disciples, need a lot of time to try to understand this.
But here is what Jesus is saying:
The Father and I are one. When you see me you see the Father.
And I will be one with you in the same way the Father is with me.
We all will be present to each other in the oneness of love.
Then a funny thing happens. Instead of Philip breaking in with a clownish “couldn’t you just show us the Father and forget all this talk about unity and oneness,” Philip begins to listen as Jesus prays in a remarkable way. In essence,
They have accepted your words, Abba, and they truly understand the fact that I came from you. They believe that you sent me.
What is it that they have accepted and believed? The power of God’s love even amidst departures and loss. And something else—they could not identify it yet—something about Jesus that was so wide open to God that the two were completely at one. “Whoever sees me sees the Father,” he said. That is a very deep description of such love.
How does this make sense to us? I don’t know. We need to have the Holy Spirit of God come to us tenderly and lift us into flight so we can see Christ’s landscape spread out.
From that vantage point, maybe Jesus would say something like the following to us:
I have shown you who God is and who I am. Now I go like all human beings back to the Father—your Father and my Father. But this Holy Spirit of God I have been describing? It is no fantasy. I am going to send it into you, and as often as you accept it you are one with us.
Next week, on Pentecost we will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. We are waiting. Let us drink a lot of (spiritual) coffee so that we will not sleep through it.
Maybe there is no “letdown” at all. Maybe we are lifted up instead.
If your diocese is celebrating the Ascension on Sunday instead of Thursday you would hear a different reading.
You are invited to email a note to the author of this reflection:
Fr. John Foley, SJ