by Rev. Dn. Philip Mathew
Christ is risen!
Over the course of the past few weeks, the joy of the Resurrection has (or should have) pervaded our lives, both as individuals and as members of Christ's Body, the Church. Indeed, the readings assigned in the Lectionary for the Sundays of the Easter Season are filled with Paschal joy and its implications for us. The Sunday Gospels, moreover, present the Risen Christ to us as they recount his appearances to his disciples.
But this Sunday is different. The Gospel is taken from Luke 9.51-62, and instead of a post-resurrection appearance, we hear of words and events which took place during Christ's earthly ministry. In the ninth chapter of his Gospel, St. Luke describes a number of events which took place in Galilee and set the scene for our Gospel passage, such as the sending out of the Twelve and the feeding of the five thousand (among others). After these, we read: "Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem..." (v. 51). At first glance, it merely seems that our Lord decided to go to the holy city after this period of work in Galilee. But St. Luke mentions two things which bear further contemplation. The time had come for Jesus to "be received up", and so he "steadfastly set his face" to go to Jerusalem (this last phrase is used twice in our passage).
One theme in this ninth chapter is the imminence of the Passion. After St. Peter's confession of Jesus as "the Christ of God" (v. 20), Jesus predicts his Passion, Death, and Resurrection on the third day. He goes on to speak of the importance of the Cross, and of discipleship as taking up one's cross daily and following him. Before he predicts his Passion a second time, he is transfigured on Mount Tabor, and St. Luke is careful to mention that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his "exodus", his departure "which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (v. 31). The mention of Christ's exodus, which brings to mind the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt under Moses, as well as the frequent mentioning of the Cross and the Resurrection, makes it clear that the time "to be received up" was the time of the Passion. And so Jesus "steadfastly set his face" to go to his Passion, reminding us of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, who says "I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I HAVE SET MY FACE like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed" (Is. 50.6-7, my emphasis).
Why do we hear such a seemingly Passion-centered Gospel on the fifth Sunday after Easter? No doubt our holy fathers associated this reading with the coming feast of Christ's Ascension into heaven: the word in v. 51 which is translated into English as "being received up" is, in Greek and Syriac, the word used as the name of the feast of the Ascension (Gr. analympsis, Syr. suloqo). Although this seems on the surface like a mere verbal coincidence, in fact, the Ascension of Christ is intimately linked to his Passion and Resurrection. Just as the Death of Christ was in vain without the Resurrection (cf. I Cor. 15.12-19), so too the Resurrection is not complete without the Ascension. Just as his bodily Resurrection is the assurance that we too will be raised from death on the last day, his Ascension is the guarantee that, if we are faithful, if we "steadfastly set our faces", we too will be brought into the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Heb. 12.22), where Christ, the Word made Flesh, sits at the right hand of God (cf. I Pt. 3.22). And this is made possible by the Holy Spirit, whose coming to us is made possible by Christ's Ascension. It is by the Spirit whom we received in Baptism that we can struggle against the principalities and powers (cf. Eph. 6.12ff), that we can seek the things which are above (cf. Col. 3.1ff), that we can lead lives like those of the holy ones of old "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11.38).
As our Paschal celebrations wind down, we come to see that, in this time of grace and refreshment, we were being prepared for the long struggle ahead of us, as we set our faces steadfastly to go to the Jerusalem on high. The words of the Apostle Paul, then, are especially appropriate for us to heed: "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12.1-2).
He Rests His Head in Loving You
by Rev. Dn. Gheevarghese John
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