Homily 7th Sunday of Easter Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo· Acts 7:55-60
· Ps 97:1-2,6-7,9
· Rev 22:12-14,16-17,20
· John 17:20-26
The Spirits of Witness and Oneness Needed!
The Gospel reading of today is widely known with the appellation: the “Priestly Prayer/ or the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus," (praecatio summi sacerdotis- David Chytraeus) ,or "farewell prayer," prayer of Jesus(R. Bultmann). In this last farewell prayer, and important testament of Jesus, we are told, “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying, ‘Holy Father, 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, that the world may believe that you sent me…”
This prayer, especially the phrase, “that they may all be one” (Ut Omnes unum sint), as intercessory as it may be (according to the patristic fathers), is a delight of many pastors, exegetes, commentators, scholars and Church leaders. Many Bishops (C. Etokudoh) have also chosen it as their episcopal motos, and guiding principles of ecumenism and evangelization.
It is a timely prayer that fits the 7th Sunday of Easter, a post- ascension Church. It gives answers to the questions: what happens to the Church after the ascension of Jesus. It calls for a spirit of witness, prayers, and perseverance within the church even with the seeming physical absence of Jesus. In this prayer, ut omnes, unum sint (that they may all be one”) Jesus, the high priest stresses unity, faith, love and peace after he might have ascended to the Father. Jesus anticipates a Church marked with despair, distress and persecution, like in the case of Stephen, in today’s 1st reading, Acts of the Apostle chapter 7.Churches, Christians, families and even politicians everywhere can relate to this priestly prayer, recognizing ab initio, that the causes of disunity may include, ignorance, jealousy, envy, and lack of respect for one another’s culture and religion.
In the United Nations today, the question of how to cope with wars, and global terrorism posed by Isis and other religious extremists remains alive. America like any other nation on earth, has its own problems and challenges(racial, denominational divides etc) currently addressed by members of both political parties: The Republicans and the Democrats and by those who are Independents. In Nigeria, where the prayer for “Nigeria in Distress” has long been maintained, the activities of Boko Haram, and recently of some radical Herdsmen and corrupt elected officials are among those realities threatening the unity of that nation.
No wonder the recent and timely meeting of the Nigerian Catholic Bishops with President Muhamadu Buhari on May 2, 2016 has unequivocally address the following unity-related needs:
· For the Church and State to Collaborate in building a united post-Boko Haram Nigeria
· To urgently address the recent famers’/herdsmen’s conflict in Nigeria
· For Freedom of worship, education and religion in all parts of Nigeria
· To address current socio-political and economic hardship in the country
· For a greater and collective sense of patriotism
In the face of these challenges a true life of witness is expected. This may include, interdenominational prayer, change of attitude, freedom of speech, respect to the dignity of every human person, their fundamental human rights, security and freedom of education, worship and true dialogue among religious groups, followers and leaders and promotion of unity and sense of patriotism in our homes, families, villages, towns, states, nations, churches, and dioceses.
Those who witness to this spirit of unity and oneness in the face of distress, could be liken to those describe in the 2nd reading (Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20). They have washed their robes of unity, oneness and witness ready to participate in the right of the tree of life and entrance into the heavenly city through the gates of life namely, Jesus, who remains the way, the truth and the life.