YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER
HOMILY THEME: TARRYING IN THE UPPER ROOM : OUR WEEK OF EXPECTATION!
BY: Fr. Ben Agbo
HOMILY: * Act 1 : 12 – 14, 1 Pet 4 : 13 – 16, Jn 17 : 1 – 11.
The Holy Mother Church has entered, since Ascension Day, another Holy Week plus extra 3 days ( total of 10 days) not of the Passion of Christ again but for the manifestation of the Holy Ghost. Jesus ascended that the Holy Spirit might descend and so that there will be empowerment.
Theologically speaking, there is no “sede vacante” – there is no lack of presence/ vacant seat of the divinity in the Church. But it is important to note that the liturgical attention MUST shift to the Upper room. Anybody that does not go to the Upper room now is spiritually on his/ her own.
Today’s gospel let’s us see how the Father is being glorified in His Son, Jesus Christ while Jesus Christ is glorified in the Holy Spirit and then the Holy Spirit is glorified in our lives as believers. As Jesus departed from this world in glory he promised us glorification through the presence of the Holy Spirit. ‘Eternal life is this : to know you the true God, Jesus Christ whom you have sent and the Holy Spirit who has come to sanctity us’. Who is this Holy Spirit? The tragedy of modern day Christianity is that many Christians don’t have a personal knowledge and relationship with the Holy Spirit – the 3rd person of the Blessed Trinity.
We are told in today’s 2nd reading that the Holy Spirit manifests mostly during suffering and perseverance accompanied by expectation, 1 Pet 4 : 13 – 18. Suffering brings perseverance which gives us hope which does not fail us because the Holy Spirit is poured out when there is hope, Rom 5 : 3. The Holy Spirit is most manifest around the Cross. According to Watchman Nee : ‘When the Word of God penetrates deeper and deeper, the working of the Cross will also be deeper and the Holy Spirit will cause the spiritual life to grow more… The Holy Spirit does not work alone without the Cross. Without the Holy Spirit the work of the Cross is dead ‘(Spiritual Man, p. 191). He manifests most powerfully in time of suffering as our Counsellor, Advocate, Paraclete, Comforter and Teacher. As the Prophet Isaiah beautifully put it : ‘When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer’, Is 30 : 20.
Expectation is the basis of faith and the whole spiritual life is punctuated by faith, hope and charity. Men of faith like Abraham distinguished themselves in their theology of expectation ; Abraham expected a child for 99 years, Joseph expected the fulfilment of his dream through many years of slavery and imprisonment, Elijah waited for the rain for many years, Job waited for his healing through many years of sickness and tribulation . This week, we are told that the Apostles waited after 40 days of Christ’s resurrection and appearances for another 10 days after Ascension for the coming of the Pentecost. They were told : ‘Do not go out. Stay in the City then, until you are clothed with power from on high’, Lk 24 : 49.
Without asking in prayer and expecting, nobody receives the Holy Spirit. Jesus said : ‘Until now you have not asked anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and so your joy will be complete’, Jn 16 : 24. He assures us with the analogy of father – child relationship : ‘If you then, evil as you are, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’, Lk 11 : 23. The problem is that we don’t really ask. According to Benny Hiln, ‘The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He doesn’t enter your room until you invite Him. He doesn’t sit down until you ask Him. And He doesn’t speak to you until you speak to Him’, (Good Morning Holy Spirit, p. 59).
Another problem is that even when we have asked we lack the expectant faith to wait for his answer. According to Steve Clarke, the difference between the Charismatic /Pentecostal form of spirituality and the traditional form lies in expectation. ‘The Charismatic renewal is a renewal in what could be called “expectant faith”. The basis of it is the discovery that if we expect God to do for us what he did for the early Christians, and if we ask for it, we will receive it… Many traditional spiritual men do not ask (example for the gift of tongues)'(“Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts”, p. 91.
Liturgical Prayer ; Upper Room is the traditional home of Liturgical prayer starting from the celebration of the 1st Holy Mass there by Jesus Christ and his apostles at the Last Supper. The Apostles had to conglomerate there again and again as a spiritual reference point just like Jacob was told to go back to Bethel from time to time, Gen 31 :13, 35 : 1.
In today’s 1st reading, we are told that after the Ascension experience, the apostles had to return to the Upper room and remained in prayer with other ‘women apostles’ and Mary the mother of Jesus. My question is : What kind of prayer were they saying together? Breaking of bread, praises, singing of Psalms, sharing of the Word, intercessory prayers, etc.
Private Prayer ; Every liturgical or public prayer is animated by the deep personal and private prayer life of the individual members. If we have no deep private prayer lives, our public prayer will be empty and noisy.
Aberrations in prayer ; Prayer is faulty (i) when it is not accompanied by obedience, Jn 14 : 14 – 15
(ii) when it becomes self centred, James 4 : 1 – 4
(iii) when it becomes showy, Matt 6 : 5, (iv) when we are distracted, Lk 10 : 41
(v) when we fail to expect an answer, Is 40 : 31.
As we join the apostles liturgically this week at the Upper room, let us remember to pray in the Spirit, Eph 6 : 18. I don’t mean shouting or getting too emotional but let our whole being be lifted up in prayer this week. Jesus said that ‘God is spirit and the time has come for believers to worship him in spirit and truth’, Jn 4 : 24. Let’s not be praying in the flesh. Let us break with our sinful lives and present ourselves as living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, Rom 12 : 1 – 2. Let’s sing his praises, listen to his Word, surrender to his will, ask for forgiveness of our sins, ask for so many petitions we have right now as a country, ask for deliverance from all evil, not just facing the devil alone, Matt 6 : 9 – 13. Our so called ‘ministration prayers’ needn’t last for too long. Let’s stop the carnivals and harvesting of ‘Holy Ghost casualties’ that often distract us on Pentecost Saturday nights from receiving his anointing because we are watching those falling and prevent many from coming for the Sunday morning climax of our Pentecost celebration. But we must give the Holy Spirit some chunk of our time and devotion this week. I wish you a spirit filled Pentecost Week!