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Homily for May 16, 2021 – The 7th Sunday of Easter

Fr. John Denburger, OCSO

The 7th Sunday of Easter

(Acts 1: 15 – 17; Ps: 103; 1 John 4: 11 – 16; John 17: 11b – 19)

They had followed the Master’s instructions in preparing the Passover Meal and surely, the disciples expected it to be the ritual they knew so well with the prayers, the chants, the required foods but, to their surprise it was very different.

Humbly Jesus washed their feet, took bread and a cup of wine and gave them the Eucharist for the first time. He then spoke at length with a seriousness and intimacy they would never forget; “lifting His eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying Holy Father, keep them in Your name…” and with that gesture and those words He drew these men into His prayer.”

Whenever we approach the Sacred Word with openness and receptivity, anything in the passage might resonate – a word, a phrase, even a gesture. In the Gospel it was this phrase “…lifting His eyes to heaven” and in particular, the verb “lifting.” On reflecting I came to see how it described Jesus in His mission. Jesus will speak of His death as a “lifting up” and often in solitude He will lift up His heart to the Father in prayer- then at His Ascension “He was lifted up and a cloud took Him from the apostles’ sight.

And Jesus in His mercy through word, through miracle lifted people from fear to freedom like Nicodemus – from ignorance to truth like Peter and the disciples – from sickness to health like the leper – from sin to forgiveness like Mary Magdalen – from death to life like Lazarus – and the people crowded around Him, tried to touch Him in their desire to be lifted up.

The words of Psalm 40 are a very fitting description of Jesus in His “lifting up”: “I waited, I waited for the Lord and He stooped down to me. He heard my cry. He drew me from the deadly pit, from the miry clay. He set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm.

He put a new song into my mouth, praise of our God.” “He put a new song into my mouth, praise of our God.” That speaks very much of us here who gather to praise God every day and of all who praise the Lord in their lives. We can only praise the Lord because He lifts us up to praise – He graces our hearts, touches our depths. Our God has no need of our praise; God is totally sufficient in Himself yet He graces us with the gift of praise. And in accepting this we permit Him to grace us with His merciful Presence. In praising Him we seek Him to deepen our faith, faith that enhances, strengthens, lifts up our lives to Him and into Him. To praise Him is to receive and receive abundantly.

In any act of praise there is a mutual exchange, not equal by any means but very real – Divinity and humanity meet – there are countless examples of this in the Sacred Scriptures.

There is Our Lady in her canticle:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my Savior.” In her praise of God, her magnifying Him, she is filled with joy – a deep, encompassing presence of her God, the origin, source of her joy..

There is the Psalmist in Psalm 117:
“O praise the Lord, all you nations; acclaim Him all you peoples. Strong is His love for us, He is faithful forever.” In the Psalmist’s invitation to praise the Lord, one comes to experience the strength of His love and His eternal faithfulness – divine love and faithfulness lift us up to Him.

Joy, love, faithfulness and more – to know these in our hearts is to possess the pearl of great price – it is to taste something of God’s Kingdom here and now. Why does God lift us up? Why does our Lord grace us so richly? A very simple answer: “Such is His love for us!”