The Fourth Sunday after Easter
excerpt fromCOMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary
Volume 3: Easter to Pentecost (p. 48-49)
St. Peter Publications
Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, CanadaReprinted with permission of the publisher.
The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for this Sunday combine to
form one lesson: that we ought to prepare our hearts for the Gift
of the Holy Spirit. And all three are unanimous in the sentiment
that it is only with God's assistance, only by his grace, that such a preparation
is possible. Thus the Collect addresses God as the One "Who alone
canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men...". The
Epistle recognizes that "Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from
above, and cometh down from the Father of lights...." Those gifts
include his Son whom St. James calls the "Word of truth," the holiness
which comes through the Son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This
gift is possible, the Gospel makes clear, because Jesus "goes away" to
heaven, and presents himself to the Father, who in turn gives all things
to the Son, including this Gift.
This mysterious transfer of power made upon the completion of the Son's
earthly mission takes us within the Holy Trinity itself. In the Creed,
we confess that Jesus "ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand
of God the Father Almighty." Being seated at the right hand of the
Father suggests a place of authority and privilege. St. Paul expounds
the significance of the Ascension in his Epistle to the Ephesians: "When
he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.
...He who descended is he who also ascended far above all heavens, that
he might fill all things." (Eph. 4:8, 10) In his "high priestly
prayer," Jesus had looked forward to this time, "I glorified thee on earth,
having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father,
glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee
before the world was made." (John 17:4, 5) A return to this
glory makes possible the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
John Keble begins his poem for the fourth Sunday after Easter with the
It must have seemed startling to the disciples to be told that it was actually
better for them if Jesus went away. Indeed it must seem startling
to us, too, until we think about it carefully. Do we not often think
how wonderful it would be if only Jesus were visibly with us here and now?
Wouldn't all our problems be solved? Wouldn't all want and discord
melt away? But in so thinking we are being selfish. The Holy
Spirit whom our Lord sends to us is everywhere, wherever "two or three
are gathered together in his name." Only through the agency of his
Holy Spirit could our Lord make good his promise to be with his Church
always, "even unto the end of the world." He could in his Spirit,
be with all believers, in all places, in all times, to prepare them for
his second bodily coming, at the Last Day.
"My Saviour, can it ever be
That I should gain by losing thee?"
In the Old Testament readings for this coming week (Canadian BCP, 1962),
we begin the Book of Joshua, which contains the story of the Children of
Israel's entry into the Promised Land. They have been prepared by
forty long years of struggle, anxiety, and at times, chastisement.
Let us pray that by the Spirit's guidance, the "grace of our Lord Jesus
Christ" may mould our "unruly wills and affections" and ready us for the
Kingdom of Heaven.