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The Fourth Sunday after Easter
excerpt from
COMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary
Volume 3: Easter to Pentecost (p. 48-49)
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Reprinted 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 question, 

"My Saviour, can it ever be 
That I should gain by losing thee?"
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.

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.