The End. When we reach the end of a book or a film, we sometimes see these words telling us that our journey through this particular story has concluded. As our journey through the Easter Season comes to a close, our readings for the 7th Sunday definitely give us a feeling that we have reached the conclusion of a story:
Psalm 97:1-2, 6-7, 9
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
Our first reading continues our journey through the Acts of the Apostles, but actually takes a step to Chapter 7 and a time before Paul makes his appearance. Here we meet Stephen, a deacon in the church of Jerusalem and a fierce defender of the faith. He has been arrested and is standing trial in front of the Sanhedrin. During this trial Stephen is boldly condemning the Jewish authorities for being blind to prophecy, giving a long discourse that takes us from the patriarchs of Genesis to Moses to Jesus. Our passage begins with Stephens closing words, and the Sanhedrin can hear no more. Stephen is ordered out of the city and stoned to death. The Church recognizes St. Stephen is the protomartyr… the first martyr for the Christian faith. An interesting side-note to this reading is that the Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus (whom we would eventually come to know as St. Paul) was witness to this event.
Though the death of Stephen is tragic, our Psalm reflects the heart of his message to the Sanhedrin, and the joy he felt through the Holy Spirit when we sing, “The Lord is king, the most high over all the earth.”
Our second reading brings our study of the book of Revelation to an end with some passages from the book’s conclusion. Here John, imprisoned on Patmos island, hears a voice that says, “Behold, I am coming soon.” The great battle between good and evil has been fought and won. John’s visions for the past two weeks has shown us that God and the Lamb were victorious, and those dressed in their robes washed white in the blood the Lamb are being told to come and receive life-giving water. John is telling us, the Baptized, that Christ is coming soon to claim us for his own and bring us to salvation.
Our Gospel from John gives us a passage from the conclusion of the Last Supper discourse. Jesus has known that this moment is the beginning of the end for his time on Earth, so he’s taken this final opportunity with his Apostles to tell them what they need to know (to love one another). In proper fashion Jesus concludes with a prayer to his Father, praying that the Father will be known through his disciples through him. As is typical of John’s Gospel, this prayer is both spiritual and catechetical, explaining the intertwined relationship between him and the Father, and how through them (the disciples), the Father can become known through their love.
It is a little sad that many of us won’t get to spend time with these readings because many diocese shift the celebration of the Ascension to the 7th Sunday of Easter, because these readings serve as a fitting conclusion to our Easter Season because they present to us a moment of transition. Our story is coming to an end, but as with all endings, they also serve as transitions to new beginnings. It is the ultimate metaphor for Baptism, where sacramentally we die to our old selves and become new creations: reborn in the light and life of Christ. We join in Christ’s victory over evil and death to become a part of the new Heaven and the new Earth.
As we conclude the Easter Season in Lectionary Cycle C we also conclude our extended study of the Book of Revelation. There is no question that John’s Revelation is one of the most hotly debated books of the Bible, and has been since the beginning when the Church fathers in the 3rd Century debated whether it should be included in the canon. As I’ve spent more time with this book, I can see why they opted to keep it in. For as fantastical the story is, for however much it is shrouded in symbolism, in the end it is a story of Jesus’ triumph over death. And this triumph extends to all of us who follow Christ. For all the difficulties we face, whether in the past, right now, or sometime in the future, ultimately, in the end, we win. When things are most desperate, how comforting to know that with the love of Christ we will attain salvation!