Seventh Sunday in Easter Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Acts 1:12-14; 1 Peter 4:13-16; Jn 17:1-11a

We have just heard the beginning of the High Priestly prayer of Jesus. The primary function of a priest is to lead the people of God in worship. What we worship, we prefer to everything. So, this is the guiding rule of life: to prefer God to everything. To that end, how do we authentically worship?

Several weeks ago, on Holy Thursday, we recalled that Jesus gave Himself forever as food during the Last Supper. Food gives itself totally. This self-giving signified His approaching death and resurrection. The active ingredient here, as throughout His life, is “self-giving.” Here’s why:

The next day, on Good Friday, Gentile soldiers nailed Him to a cross for the purpose of executing Him. A sacrifice was made, but the soldiers were not priests offering a sacrifice. When Jesus, the night before, offered Himself as food, He transformed the cruelty of the soldiers into an act of His own love and self-giving. In doing this He initiated the renewal of the fundamental act of worship. In the past, at the time of Abraham, worship was rendered by the sacrifice of a human. Then it became crops and animals. Following the example of Christ, worship became the sacrifice of self: to prefer God and neighbor to self. That is authentic worship. For us it is usually the sacrifice of ego. It is not a sentiment; it is an obligation.

The glory Jesus prays for is solely for the glory of the Father. “Glory” is the weight of importance a person (or being) has; it is the respect the person inspires. The source of Jesus’ glory is His life lived and given “for.” Pope Emeritus Benedict has written that another name for Jesus Christ is “for.” When Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come,” He is referring to the importance of His total self-giving on the cross for the Father and for humanity. This glory is for the sake of making the Father’s glory, His importance, known to the world. Jesus is able to do this because of His love. He is able to love so totally because He was born without Original Sin (self-centeredness). He calls us, saddled with Original Sin, to do the same. In fact, He obliges us…and He graces us. (Perhaps the greatest ego-deflation we experience is the personal realization that any semblance of loving as He loved is done by His power, not one’s own.)

This interiority needed to live out this obligation is described in the Letter of Peter we read earlier. St. Peter tells us we will experience joy in proportion to our share in the sufferings of Christ. In other words, rather than oppose the grace, we will endure the suffering “with love and self-giving”. It will be an act of worship. Peter knows about this when he writes that “If you are insulted for the name of Christ,” as he was by his fellow Jews, “…the spirit and glory of God rests upon you.” As monastic’s, this brings us back to last Monday’s gospel about vulnerability.

Jesus knew He was vulnerable when He uttered this High Priestly prayer. He knew it in Gethsemane.  And He acknowledged it. But having received the Spirit, He did what Peter recommends to us: “…glorify God because of the name [of Christ].” Like Christ, we meet any cruelty and transform it by “love and self-giving.”

As we come to the end of the Lenten-Easter season we are given the High Priestly prayer of Jesus as a way of understanding how He lived His life as worship. Most often He sacrificed His ego for the glory of the Father.

When confronted by Pharisee’s, when taken to the brow of a hill to be thrown off, and when He washed the feet of His disciples He sacrificed His status in preference for the Father. He worshiped by preferring the Father to everything…even His ego. “He emptied Himself.” And we must do the same. The self-emptying described in Philippians (2:5-8) can be applied to us in this way: “Although one possesses a certain status, one does not exploit it for selfish gain, but acts for the good of others.”[1] As someone told me years ago: “Your life is not about you.”

To this end there is one lesson we must take away from the Lenten-Easter season:

Love and sacrifice are one.

[1] Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity.