No more than a sabbath walk

POST BY PGallagher

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: Father the hour has come to glorify your Son [1]

The glory of the Lord is in his death, resurrection and ascension.  Jesus’ glory is also in all that he achieves through his followers and their many kinds of service. In them I am glorified [2] he says. In all that we do as his disciples we are in communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The whole of our life, empowered by Christ, is a prayer to God.  This prayer is strengthened by including Mary the mother of Jesus [3].  Our Lady joined in continuous prayer [4] with the apostles. They had returned to the upper room where they were staying [5] from the Mount of Olives [6] on which they had witnessed the ascension of the Lord.  This hill was not far from Jerusalem: it was a short distance away, no more than a Sabbath walk [7].  The paschal mystery is the shape of our cooperation with God.  Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives are adjacent in our heart as well as in Jerusalem.  Near the place of suffering and glory is the place of prayer.  The upper room, where prayer comes naturally, is not far from the garden where prayer was once an agony even for the Lord and for the rest, impossible.

The followers of Christ pray with Mary.  This prayer acknowledges her special position.   She is the model of the focus which wholeheartedly welcomes Christ into a life and awaits his Spirit.  Our Lady is also an image of the Temple, of the holy of holies, of the sacred space where God can be encountered all the time.  The sanctuary of God in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it.  Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun [8]. The continuous prayer which is a life lived in the presence of God is personified in Mary.  She does not make light of other people’s difficulties but offers help. Channelling God’s assistance and our best efforts, the Blessed Virgin lifts us up where her Son is in glory.  There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life, to savour the sweetness of the Lord, to behold his temple [9].

The prayer in the upper room after the ascension is a foretaste of life forever with God. Eternal life is this, to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent [10]. The apostles have not been left behind by Jesus but rather they are being launched on their own journey to Father.  The Lord is not abandoning us but taking us with him. The prayerful waiting on the Holy Spirit is a confident welcome of One long-promised.  Our prayers are like the ark of the covenant being carried into the holy of holies and like the Yes of the annunciation.  Knowledge of God is already in our heart: for I have given them the teaching you gave me, and they have truly accepted this, that I came from you [11].  We approach our source wanting to hear what he will say and desirous of explaining ourselves to him so that we may better serve. Jesus has revealed to us, the way, the truth and the life [12].  He says I pray for them [13]. We understand that, thanks to his prayer, we pray through him, with him and in him [14].  Supported by the grace of God, inspired by the example of Mary, we allow ourselves to be carried up into the divine presence.

Ascending could seem quite an easy journey.  The Lord has been lifted up and we allow him to lift us up after him.  The friends praying in the upper room with Mary are united by love and devotion.  They are doing what they want to do. Fear has been banished and there is now the expectation of the complete fulfilment of the promises. Our Lady gives a lesson in expectation:  how to await the Spirit; how joyfully to permit the Son to bring us into his Father’s house.  An easy journey, a short distance…no more than a Sabbath walk [15].  Yet, prayer is not always so straightforward.   The upper room had been a place of anxiety [16] and doubt [17].  We sometimes approach God in desperation as well as with strong faith and trust in his promises.  Our minds, even at the most sacred moments, can flee to other matters, or be distracted. The ‘short journey’ is one which, if we are to complete it, cries out for assistance.  We are content to be carried in prayer by the Lord himself.  For the intercession of Mary we are grateful.  Our weaknesses are supplied for by the holiness of the Church.  Many help us to draw near to God, to cover a short distance which has sometimes proved too difficult for us to cover.  Jesus has never abandoned us, but we readily abandon him and forget what we are about.

The apostles stride from the Mount of Olives into the upper room.   What they have witnessed is not so much a departure as the beginning of a great victory[18].  With Our Lady, they go rejoicing to pray after the ascension.  They also remember the Last Supper: when they had sung the hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives [19].   The garden of Gethsemane is at the foot of that hill.  Here Jesus gathered strength for his Passion [20].  Here he prayed [21]. However, here, also, prayer was too difficult for his friends [22]They were sleeping from sheer grief [23]In the same place, the Lord was betrayed [24] and was arrested with violence and insult [25].  The memory of these events is carried into the prayer in the upper room.  To pray ‘in Christ’ is not seek a secure place where he, and us with him, can no longer be hurt by treachery, violence or even death.  The body, marked by the wounds, is not safe in heaven but, rather, reflected everywhere.  If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad, because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed [26].

No more than a Sabbath walk [27].   The proximity of the Mount of Olives to upper room is underlined.  Jesus is always sending us to prayer.  It precedes every right action.  In prayer is the energy and strength for the mission which has been entrusted to us.  The Lord opens the way for us to the Father. The first step on the journey is to pray. Mary is with us, interceding and mediating.  The Spirit hovers over us.   We listen and speak according to a pattern established by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.  In our prayer, his Passion continues to do God’s will.  Our saviour is no distance from us: agonising, suffering, dying and rising.  What Jesus has done for us will never go way.  The great good of his suffering and death remains with us.  There was obedience to the Father in all that he did.  Even the shortest walk of the Son was observant of what he had been commanded.  The same atmosphere of conformity to the will of God surrounds our prayer.  I have made your name known to the men you took from the world to give to me.  They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word [28].

[1]        John 17.1

[2]        John 17.10

[3]        Acts 1.14

[4]        Acts 1.14

[5]        Acts 1.13

[6]        Acts 1.12

[7]        Acts 1.12

[8]        Apocalypse 11.19-12.1

[9]        Psalm (27) 26.4

[10]       John 17.3

[11]       John 17.8

[12]       John 14.6

[13]       John 17.9

[14]       Roman Missal, the doxology

[15]       Acts 1.12

[16]       John 20.19

[17]       John 20.25

[18]       Zechariah 14.4

[19]       Matthew 26.30

[20]       Luke 22.42-44

[21]       Luke 22.39-41

[22]       Luke 22.45-46

[23]       Luke 22.45

[24]       Luke 22.48

[25]       Luke 22.52

[26]       1 Peter 4.13

[27]       Acts 1.12

[28]       John 17.6