Homily for the 7th Sunday of Easter

We are in the precious time between the Ascension and Pentecost.

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus had told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem.

So at the end of St Luke’s Gospel: “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24: 49). And at the beginning of the Acts of Apostles: “And while staying with them, he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father”, that is, the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4).

Stay there, wait there.

And so they do. They stay, they wait, and together in the Upper Room, with Mary, the mother of Jesus, they persevere in prayer (cf. Acts 1:14). And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1), that is in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. A strong wind was heard, tongues of fire appeared, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4) and the universal mission of the Church began.

I’ve always been struck by this staying in Jerusalem. It has two meanings. The obvious one is the literal one. It was a practical directive. The disciples mustn’t scatter, but stick together, be in one place, of one mind, all engaged in prayer: raw material for the Holy Spirit to kindle. So, “stay in Jerusalem”, the holy city, the geographical centre of God’s plan for the world, the place where Jesus died and was buried and rose again. As we know the Gospel and the Church were meant for the whole world, and in time the disciples – except for a small Jewish-Christian community – would head out from Jerusalem into the wider world. We know the story and that we’re all called too to go out into life and take our faith with us, into every corner of our life, into every relationship and activity. But at the same time, we’re still called to stay in Jerusalem. This is a second, spiritual meaning. Even in the midst of our missions, we must stay with the apostles and Mary and our fellow-disciples, stay and wait and pray for the Holy Spirit,

Jerusalem, the actual Jerusalem, is not for Christians what Mecca is for Muslims. It’s good to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but we’re not required to (and today we’d hardly want to). There’s another Jerusalem to stay in.

In the Bible, Jerusalem is thought of as the place where the God of Israel had placed his name: his presence, his reality, his revelation, his word. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus prays for his disciples: “keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us. While I was with them, I kept those you had given me true to your name.” Here’s what it spiritually means to stay in Jerusalem: it is to be true to the name of the Father revealed by the Son. “Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth.” It is to stay in the truth revealed by Jesus. “We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves”, says the second Reading. Stay in the sphere of God’s Name, keep believing in his Love, and in that faith wait for the Holy Spirit to complete God’s love within us.

The dark figure of Judas is hovering in the background here. He didn’t stay in this Jerusalem. He fell from faith and, says St Peter, “went to his own place” – a powerful phrase. Today’s first Reading is set in Jerusalem, between the Ascension and Pentecost. Peter and the community choose a replacement for Judas, the lot falling on Matthias. This is Peter rebuilding the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem, the Church, replacing the foundation stone that had slipped, Judas, bringing the apostles back to the sacred number of twelve. He was making the Church strong for what lay ahead, fit for a universal mission. And from Pentecost on, it’s not in the first, geographical Jerusalem, but in this other, spiritual one, the community of faith around the apostles, that the Name dwells and we with It.

“Stay in Jerusalem”. The command is still valid. The more we think of it, the more it opens out, the more it’s a light for our lives. Stay true to the Name, stay in faith. Believe in the Father’s love. Stay in the communion of the Church around the successors of Peter and the Apostles. Stay in the grace of baptism, the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Stay close to the Eucharist, the presence of the living Christ, his Body now our Jerusalem. Persevere in prayer with Mary and the saints. “Stay in Jerusalem”.

And if we do, we will be “clothed with power from on high”. The Holy Spirit, the Completer, will come, and God’s “love be complete in us”. And thousands around us will be saved.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 12 May 2024


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