The Acts of the Apostles follows the proclamation of the Gospel by the church. The apostles and disciples bear witness to the resurrection of Christ from the dead and their faith in the Risen Lord. In our liturgies during the Easter Season we regularly have readings from this work.
As the resurrection is proclaimed, many people come to believe and are baptized. Despite great obstacles, the church grows rapidly and over a vast area. Acts also gives us insight into various aspects of the early life of the church.
Today’s first reading is a short passage from Acts. The reading recalls the period between the Ascension and Pentecost. St. Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles, recalls that following Jesus’ ascension, the apostles returned to Jerusalem to the upper room. There they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
It is significant that those gathered were “devoted to prayer.” They gather together and pray “with one accord” as they worship God and offer thanks for the blessings bestowed upon them and the world through Jesus Christ. Just as in the days of the early church, worship of the almighty is an important part of our faith life.
One of the terms used in the New Testament from which the translation “worship” comes is proskuneo. A literal translation of this term is “to kiss the hand toward.” The term derives from the action of a slave when his or her master comes into their presence. They bow before him and kiss his hand. It is an action of esteem or reverence. Jesus uses the term when he says: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (John 4:23).
The Latin translation of this word is adoratio, adoration. When one places him or herself before the Lord, gazing upon him and exalting his greatness, one adores. The English term worship derives from “worth-ship” or “worthiness.” Praise belongs to the one worthy of it hence we worship God from who all good comes and to whom all things have their proper end or goal.
The Gospel reading for today’s liturgy comes from the Priestly Prayer of Jesus recounted in the Gospel of John. Jesus prays to the Father for us (“I pray for them.”) just as he is about to enter his passion (“Father, the hour has come…”). Speaking with his heavenly Father in prayer, Jesus says, “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me and they have kept your word.”
Jesus is the way to the Father. He makes the Father known to us by coming from the Father. He humbles himself by becoming man (“…and the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” John 1:14a) and makes the invisible God visible (“and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14b).
Jesus says: “I revealed your name.” A person’s name is very important. A name identifies the person, capturing who that person is and what they are about. When Jesus says he revealed the name of God, he says that he has made the Father known for who he is. Through Jesus’ gift of himself in love he has shown us the depth of his love for the Father and the Father’s love for us. He is love and mercy.
Jesus makes him known to us chiefly in his cross. Through the cross sin is forgiven, evil defeated and life is offered for all. Recall Jesus’ own words: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:14-17) Jesus reveals the Father so that we might know his love and offer him fitting worship.
God is worthy of all praise and thanksgiving; so when the apostles gather together they offer prayer to God, they worship him. Similarly, as we gather each week around the altar, we worship the Lord in thanksgiving and praise. We worship him for his greatness and the great love with which he has loved us. We thank him for the gift of his Son and the salvation won for us through his passion, death and resurrection. The celebration of the Eucharist is an encounter with the divine and a preparation for the heavenly union to which our lives are directed.
The psalmist says: “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple” (Psalm 27:4). As we gather around the altar we find ourselves in the house of God, a foreshadow and taste of an eternal dwelling before the Lord. The prayer of the psalm is also ours. The longing of our heart is to be one with God.
The psalmist wonderfully captures this longing in the expression “gaze on the loveliness [also translated “beauty”] of the Lord.” As we worship we place ourselves before our all loving and merciful God and are taken up in the experience of his awesome love. At the same time the longing in our hearts to see him “face to face” increases.
In Christ Jesus we have seen the Father and so the memory of Christ is handed on generation to generation so that all might come to know him who created, redeemed and sanctifies us. The First Letter of St. Peter uses the term “glory” in a similar vein. The author exhorts: “Beloved: Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”
In this case the glory implies a future realization. He encourages faithfulness to Christ during our life in this world so that his glory may be experienced in its fullness. At the same time we “glorify” God, we worship him, through faithful perseverance even in suffering for the name of Christ Jesus.
The proclamation of the resurrection by the apostles and disciples continues today. As we gather in worship before the altar of the Lord, we bear witness to the Risen Lord and are transformed by his grace. We are nourished and strengthened through this celebration so that we too may bear witness to him whom we adore in lives full of love and mercy.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.