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MAY 12, 2013: SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 7:55-60
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
John 17:20-26

The various authors of the Christian Scriptures present us with various beliefs about Jesus' second coming.

As we know from Paul's early letters, Jesus' first followers expected his Parousia to be just around the corner. No one thought he or she would have to imitate Jesus' dying and rising for more than a few years before the risen Jesus would arrive triumphant and transform the whole universe into a new creation.

We especially hear that theology in today's Revelation passage. Suffering a severe persecution, the author's readers can only hope Jesus will quickly arrive and turn the table on their oppressors. "Behold," Jesus promises, "I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to all according to their deeds." The end of our pericope is also the end of the book of Revelation: "The one who gives this testimony says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" For the persecuted, Jesus' Parousia is "a long time a comin."

On the other hand, Luke doesn't expect Jesus' return in his lifetime. Writing in the mid-80s, he's the first author of the Christian Scriptures to be convinced he'll live his entire life, die a natural death, and Jesus will still not have come back. That's why today's Acts pericope is so significant.

For Luke, Stephen isn't just the first Christian martyr; he's the first Christian to die. Notice what happens immediately before he "falls asleep." "Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God . . . ." He doesn't have to pass time in the grave, as Paul had earlier thought, waiting for Jesus' return before he experiences the new life Jesus promised. Jesus is coming for him right here and now. Luke is convinced that each Christian, at the moment of death, experiences his or her personal Parousia. (That's also why Luke's Jesus could promise the good thief on Golgotha, "This day you will be with me in paradise." In other words, "You won't have to wait until I return before you get into heaven.")

John carries this concept one step further. He believes in "realized eschatology." He's convinced that what we're looking forward to taking place "at the end" - in Greek, the "eschatos" - is actually taking place right here and now. We don't even have to wait until we die to experience Jesus' Parousia; it's happening in our lives today. Many biblical theologians refer to realized eschatology as "already, but not yet." We're already experiencing it, but not yet in the same way we'll experience it in the future. It's just as important to reflect on what God's doing now as it is to trust in what God's going to do later.

Today's gospel passage provides us with John's reason for believing Jesus has already returned. He's convinced that those who believe in Jesus are already completely one with Jesus. Listen carefully to his Last Supper prayer for his followers. "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us ...

Hearing today's three readings, we realize the earliest followers of Jesus must have been very adaptable. They didn't instantly throw in the towel when things didn't go as planned. They simply fell back on their deep faith in Jesus, convinced he'd always be one with them, no matter the changing circumstances. Of course, that kind of faith can only be present in those who really believe they're other Christs.