“I will not leave you orphans. I’ll come to You”
The fear of being orphaned haunts we human beings from birth. The ultimate abandonment terrifies us especially before we have the ability to take care of ourselves. And it eventually finds us when our parents are taken from us.
Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, their friend and teacher, the disciples of the early church faced a transition just as shattering and transformational as the one from womb to world. Their understanding and experience of life had been fundamentally altered in their encounter with the risen Jesus. In the 40 days from resurrection to ascension, Jesus offers the disciples their own training of sorts to this new way of interacting with him. Orphaned from his skin and heartbeat, the look of his eyes and the sound of his voice, they needed to access his Spirit and apply it to all kinds of new circumstances.
In today’s Gospel Jesus prepares his friends for this time that will come. He assures them, “I will not leave you orphans.” This verse in John is the only time the term “orphan” is heard in all four Gospels. And it gives us a new image of Jesus, that of a parent. In this parenting, Jesus is joined by a new figure he introduces as the “Advocate … the Spirit of truth. The disciples are moving into a new time — one of great hope and also of great pain. Shortly after promising to send them the Advocate, Jesus tells the disciples why they will need one: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20).
Our first reading picks up after Stephen is stoned in Jerusalem — the first of the martyred disciples. As the Greek speaking followers of the WAY are scattered from Jerusalem, Philip finds himself in Samaria. When life throws lemons, he made lemonade. Instead of seeking shelter and protection, we are told he “proclaimed the Christ to them” thereby sharing the joy of the good news at every opportunity. And the church began its growth out from Jerusalem to the world about it.
A headline of a May 6th Chicago Tribune article by Ariel Cheung caught my eye this week. The author collected written and oral interviews from sixty Chicago area nurses “telling their stories from the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.” One prominent response seemed to echo the rest. ‘I always feel afraid. But in that fear, I live in hope.’ Her words parallel this Easter Sunday’s second reading from the First Letter of Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…”
In our own experience of this pandemic, we have had to face a shattering challenge. More than simply bearing with a difficult co-worker or cranky child, this one may demand everything of us. In all that we encounter, we can hold on to Jesus’ promise, “I will not leave you orphans.”
The Arizona Republic noted yesterday 31 percent believe that “Covid-19” was a sign to people who already go to church… that God wants humanity to “change!” At the beginning of the Gospel that is Jesus first preached message. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. It is still at hand and will be in every generation. We have to access it and make the changes necessary to proclaim that new normal. I saw a sign on a small neighborhood church that caught my eye recently. I pulled out my phone to take a picture. Nailed to the cross was a big -“No Trespassing”- sign. I had mixed feelings. I hope we can do better than that.
We know that we have an advocate who remains with us and an attentive parent who holds us close as we embrace a new reality. We now are the ones who must proclaim the Christ to a world desperately in need of mercy and love. May we always be ready to give an explanation for our hope.
A gentle week,
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM
Thanks to 2017 Celebration’s “Proclaim the Christ” by Katy Beedle Rice for parts of the above reflection.