Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 21, 2023 (Easter 7A)
First Reading: Acts 1:6-14
The fifty days of Eastertide are nearing their end: Pentecost Sunday is next week. In the Sunday readings since Easter we have seen the empty tomb and heard of mysterious appearances of the risen Christ, then listened as Jesus tells the apostles of God’s love and our salvation.
Now we arrive at the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven as told in the Acts of the Apostles. In this first reading we hear Jesus tell the apostles that the Holy Spirit is coming to send them out to the world with the Gospel. We will hear this promise fulfilled in wind and fire next Sunday.
Psalm: Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
Hearing the first few verses of Psalm 68, many modern Christians would be troubled by the angry images of enemies fleeing in fear and perishing in fire and smoke at the hands of an angry God. But then the Psalm abruptly changes in tone, becoming a gentler hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Those who live righteously and praise our God will receive favor and blessing, the Psalmist sings, just as did God’s people traveling through the desert to the Promised Land.
Second Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
The Christian community in Asia Minor (now Turkey) was suffering under a “fiery ordeal” of persecution for their faith when they received this letter in Peter’s name. The writer cannot make their suffering cease, but reminds them that in this suffering they share not only the suffering of their Christian brothers and sisters but even of Christ himself. Stay the course and resist evil, the letter goes on, and know that God is with us and will provide support and strength.
Gospel: John 17:1-11
John’s account of Jesus’ farewell conversation at the Last Supper now reaches its conclusion. In the preceding verses Jesus had promised the disciples, “Ask and you will receive.” Then he told them that he must soon leave this world and return to the father. Now in these final verses Jesus turns from his friends at the table and addresses God directly in prayer: He declares that the hour of his death has come. He prays for the disciples, praising them for their faith and trust, and asking God to protect them, to keep them united with each other and with God, and to give them the eternal life that comes through relationship with God in Jesus’ name.