6th SUNDAY OF EASTER (A) May 17, 2020

Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66; 1 Peter 3: 15-18; John 14: 15-21

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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These days I have a better understanding of the Psalms of Lament. About two thirds of the 150 Psalms are laments. If you want to look them up here are a few: 3, 28, 40, 55, 64, 120.... There are many more; more than Psalms of Thanksgiving, Trust, Praise, Wisdom, etc. Doesn’t that give you a clue to the conditions the Jews experienced, not just as individuals, but the whole community? Lament Psalms complain to God about human enemies, personal feelings of unworthiness, confess sins and make strong pitches to God for help in desperate situations.

I was taught a "proper language" when addressing God; a certain "etiquette of prayer." In human relations however, we are taught to "speak up," "let it all out," "clear the air." But not with God, we were taught that you shouldn’t address angry words to God. So, we "watch our tongues" in prayer. After all, we are talking to the Almighty, whom we best not upset. Still, during times like these aren’t you frightened for yourself and your loved ones and our world? Don’t we feel confused and frustrated and want to shout out, "What have we done wrong that you are punishing us so!?" A voice from our childhood shushes us, "You shouldn’t talk to God that way!" But our Jewish ancestors did, why can’t we?

They vented their feelings to God; they questioned and complained. To whom else could they voice their objections, they were an oppressed people for much of their history? They had to know their place and obey, or else. So, they raised their voices and maybe their fists, to God. You have to be very confident in a relationship to raise your voice in anger; confident that your words will be heard and the relationship is strong enough to withstand your words and emotions.

The Jews had a long relationship with God and knew that God was faithful and, even if they spoke up in anger, God would not cast them off, or smite them down. So, they prayed their Lament Psalms throughout the long history of displacement, misunderstanding and oppression – right up to, through and beyond the Holocaust.

Today’s Psalm 66 is a joyous response to our Acts’ account of the spread of the faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans. It is a hymn of praise following, as it does, upon the good news in Acts. Still, I hear people voicing other sentiments these days, feelings I also have bubbling up to the surface: "Why is this plague happening to us? Why are so many good people suffering and dying? Where are you O God? How long?"

It is with these feelings and questions that I turn to and find comfort in today’s gospel, especially in Jesus’ words, "I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you." Jesus is speaking to his disciples seated around the table the night before he died – we are in the midst of his "Last Discourse." Our faith is summed up in his words to them, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Whatever the differences in our faith community, our background and ways of thinking, we are people who love Jesus. We love his way of being and thinking and we accept his manner of life. We not only love Jesus, we do our best to keep his commandments, and act on the love he shows to us. If we do not, our faith is shallow and without commitment.

I do not know if the disciples were feeling warm and cozy, sharing a meal with their charismatic leader and one another. But within hours any warm feelings they might have had would dissolve into terror. He was to be violently taken away from them and when he was, would they remember his words as they prayed Psalms of Lament, or in their own grieving, pained words?

What about us? We, like those disciples, have sat around the table with Jesus and been fed his very life. Today, because of the pandemic, many lament their inability to return to that nourishing table of presence. Another reason to lament. Can we receive Jesus’ presence in his word? Can we lean on the promise he makes to us, as he did to his companions on the verge of their faith-shaking experience? There is reason enough to lament, complain and speak words of befuddlement to God.

But the word Jesus speaks to us today stirs the very love he asks of us. He knows the pain of his disciples. Our love for him is not a sentimental, cozy love. It is being tested by fire. Our divine Lover assures us these days of the gift of the Advocate – the Spirit of truth, who speaks to us the truth of God’s love for us when we have ample reason to lament and complain.

The Spirit is God’s permanent presence in our midst, not only in us individually, but a sustaining presence in our faith community. Jesus is true to his promise. He has not left us orphans, but has gifted us with his Spirit. And more. That Spirit is not just for believers but, as he described earlier, "blows where it will" (3:8).

Haven’t you noticed Jesus’ Spirit diligently at work among us these days when medical staffs, food store workers, janitorial personnel and bus drivers are sacrificing their lives for others –just as Jesus did and as he continues to do for us through their self offering? True to his word, he has not left us orphans – just look around.

Yes, we have plenty good reason to pray our Psalms of Lament. After we have done that and trusted in Jesus’ promise that he has not left us orphans, we are ready to turn to our Psalm Response (#66) and proclaim: "Let all the earth cry out to God with joy." – And let’s do that today!

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