A Little While
Homily for Thursday of the Sixth Week in Easter
In the five short verses which we read from St. John’s Gospel today, the phrase “a little while” is used no fewer than seven times. One of those seven times is in the form of a question: “What is this ‘little while’ of which he speaks?” Although we have all heard this Scripture reading many times, I am sure that we share the sentiments expressed by the apostles as they ask Jesus to explain himself further. One thing about this repetition strikes me; namely, St. John obviously made this phrase the lynch pin of this passage.
Several commentators have offered the opinion that Jesus is speaking of his eventual return and that because God is eternal, “a little while” must be looked at from God’s perspective. For our eternal God, a little while could be thousands of years.
Other commentators have countered that argument by saying that Jesus is referring not to his ascension but to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus initiates the coming of the Holy Spirit once he returns to the Father, “a little while” refers to the fact that shortly after Jesus rose from the dead, he imparts or pours out the Holy Spirit upon his disciples when he first appears to them in the upper room.
Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present among us and within us. The church teaches us that the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son. Consequently, when we receive the Holy Spirit in baptism and when that Holy Spirit is confirmed in us, Jesus has, indeed, returned to us. Though we must wait until the end of our own pilgrimage to see Jesus, we are, nonetheless, privileged to recognize him in the breaking of the bread, in the proclamation of the Scriptures, and in one another.
If we believe that in the descent of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns and remains truly present and active in the midst of the believers, Jesus could well say that in “a little while” he would be seen again, for Pentecost is always coming and always coming soon whenever we acknowledge and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.