Sunday after the Ascension

Exaudi – Answer

Readings: Ezekiel 36:22–28 | 1 Peter 4:7–11 | John 15:26—16:4

Text: John 15:26—16:4

From ancient times, this Sunday has been known as “Waiting Sunday”—the time in between the Lord’s Ascension into heaven, where they were commanded to wait for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49)  But before His passion, the Lord gave this teaching to His disciples:

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

The disciples are waiting for the Helper, the Paraclete, sometimes called the Advocate.  Why do they need an Advocate?  Because the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bear witness about Christ.

First, the Holy Spirit bears witness about Christ to the Apostles, the very first messengers of the Gospel.  These are the eyewitnesses who are sent:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48) 

And that is what they did in their preaching, in the Evangelists who wrote the four Gospels, in the Epistles which they sent to the Churches, and the prophecy of encouragement and perseverance in John’s Apocalypse.  The Holy Spirit bore witness through the authors of the New Testament, which remains with us to this day.

This preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection, as God’s plan for the fulness of time, salvation for all people is what the Advocate empowered.  The Acts of the Apostles are replete with mentions that the Holy Spirit added to their numbers, and that,

“the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)

So it was for the succeeding generations after the Apostles, for the Holy Spirit would continue this work, for the Church is

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:20-22)

The witness to Christ would continue, based upon these genuinely inspired (Spirit-breathed) Scriptures of the Apostles.  That is how the true Church has continued down through the centuries.  It did not continue because of political power or ability for social control of populations, which is a mistake people often make when they think of Church history.  They see fallible human institutions, inquisitions, and abuses and conflate that with the work of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, the Holy Spirit’s witness continues despite human and diabolical opposition.

The witness of the Advocate continues into our own generation.  It is a necessary calling of all who know the true God by faith to also become witnesses, or martyrs, for Him.

And that brings us to the next thing Jesus says about the witness:

16:1 I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”

This witness of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, will be opposed.  This opposition started in the most unexpected of places—in the very synagogues where the God of Israel was supposed to be worshiped.  It’s sometimes imagined that the Christians broke away from the Jews because they wanted a fresh start without all those old vestiges.  But you can see in the Book of Acts that they do not want to leave the synagogue or the Temple:

“[Jesus] parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:51-53)

That’s not the action of people who want to cut ties with their brothers.  They embraced the continuity between the faithful worship of Israel and the fulfillment in Christ.

But they were driven out of the synagogue, as Jesus had said, by those who “neither knew the Father, nor me.”  It was so intense that they even thought they were offering worship to God by putting what they considered heretics to death.  Yet, the witness of the Advocate continued.

It continued into the Middle Ages leading up to the Reformation.  The bulletin cover picture illustrates the execution of Jan Hus, a Bohemian church reformer who was burned at the stake in 1415 at the Council of Constance.  Hus had questioned papal authority, and campaigned to draw all doctrines from Holy Scripture alone.  But eerily, on July 6, 1415, after the High Mass and Liturgy—”the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God”—Hus was led out to be burned at the stake as a heretic.  This kind of opposition would sadly continue a hundred years later during the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation as we know it.

The witness to Christ, and the animosity continue in our own day, by those who “have not known the Father, nor me.”  This age may consider itself secular, but its fervor and zeal betray that it is actually very religious.  It’s just that they have a different god, a different “creation” narrative, different “redemption,” different “sins,” different “penance.”  This religion is the one which rules the scientific world and that of higher education.  By faith, they believe that the world was formed billions of years ago by impersonal, material forces.  They believe that human beings are the eventual successors of more successful animals, and taken to its logical conclusions, even exterminations like that attempted by Hitler really can’t be regarded as wrong.  After all, morals are a social construct, derived from our “selfish genes” [Richard Dawkins] who just want to survive to reproduce.  The sins of our day are closed-mindedness, holding to antiquated notions of gender differences, and failing to view the world through the lens of Karl Marx.  For such sins, you will not be burned at the stake, but you will become a target of varying degrees of retribution—as mild as losing your account on social media but potentially as much as violence against your worship service.  They will think they are offering an act of worship to their “god,” believing they will be “on the right side of history” marching toward the progress of the human race.  (At least, until a meteor comes and blows up the planet.)

By this point, you might be nearly as despondent as an atheist contemplating the afterlife.  But the Lord told us that we will be witnesses, or martyrs, about Him.  The Church is the witness of God’s love for a twisted human generation, and His power to save.

Hear how St. Peter teaches us to live in the Epistle:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace

We are witnesses with a blessed purpose: in order to show the love of God.  We do this by praying for this world and the people we know.  This is what it means that Christians are a Kingdom of priests, that you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5)  Christians are not just punching bags for the unbelieving world; they are emissaries of God’s salvation to the world, declaring that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5:19)  So, one of our God-given duties is to intercede for all people in prayer—even when they are hating us.  Remember the prayer of our Great High Priest when His enemies’ hatred was doing its worst, nailing Him to the cross. Yet He was there being offered as sacrifice for their sins, so He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

It’s with this love that we are to love even those who hate us: “love covers a multitude of sins.”  St. Peter is not saying that human love covers our sins in God’s eyes or that it overcomes death. Human love is not an atoning sacrifice. It does not reconcile us to God apart from Christ the mediator. No matter how deep and pure or even perfect human love might be it can only ever be a righteousness of the law and not of the Gospel. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s love in Christ for man, can truly promise and deliver reconciliation and righteousness. It does so when we believe that on account of Christ the Father is gracious to us. He gives to us the merits of Christ and counts them as our own. That is the foundation of our faith.

That is also the foundation of this love for the world, even when they hate us.  So, what has it been that has kept the Church, Jesus’ disciples conscious of their calling?  What has kept us in eager expectation, looking for our Savior’s return and the consummation of His promises?  Sunday after Sunday the faithful have gathered and remembered the words which He also spoke that night in the Upper Room:

“He took bread, and when He had given thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, ‘This is My Body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’ And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.’”

In this sacred meal, the faithful are fed with His forgiveness, His love which covers the multitude of our sins—our failure to love as He has loved us, our laxity in prayer, our insisting on our way rather than our Lord’s way.  And we once more encounter the immense love of God toward the undeserving.  He commanded us to do this in remembrance, not because our minds forget, but in order that the fruits of His sacrifice would be brought to the present.  If we don’t have His love for sinners, how can we do anything but show human forbearance and forgetfulness?  But when we have the pledge of God’s grace in Christ on our tongues, then we are well-equipped to be His priests, His ambassadors to a world that has tragically watered down love to a parody of what God shows it to be.

In our waiting for our Savior to return, we are not left without Comfort.  We are far from being left without what we need to live out the life and the vocations God has assigned us:

10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”