As practicing Christians, we seem to spend a fair amount of time anticipating. In Advent we anticipate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. After Christmas we spend twelve days anticipating the arrival of the Magi on the Day of Epiphany. For forty days in Lent we anticipate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the difficult events of Holy Week and the splendor of the Resurrection (Easter Day).
Another word for anticipation is hope, which I think is a much better word; indeed, hope is central to the Christian faith.
As these Great Fifty Days of Easter begin to draw to a close, the Gospel lessons for the next few Sundays anticipate the ascension of Jesus on Ascension Day and the gift of the Holy Spirit associated with the Day of Pentecost, symbolized by the descending dove. These Gospel lessons leading up to Pentecost are set up by Jesus’ new commandment: that you love one another. (John 13:34)
Choral settings of the beloved text from the Gospel of John, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” are often associated with Pentecost. However, in our common lectionary, these lessons begin to appear a few weeks before Pentecost as is the case for this Sunday (Apr. 26, Easter V).
In fact, these very words appear in John 14, from which the Gospel lesson is taken for Pentecost this year: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)
Many will recall the favorite Anglican setting of this text by English Tudor composer Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585). This Sunday’s anthem setting, fast becoming another favorite in this parish, is by Philip Wilby (b. 1949), who taught in the Department of Music of the University of Leeds for many years.
Anticipating these Gospel lessons that lead up to Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost, I’ve had an earworm of the 1970s Heinz ketchup commercial stuck in my head all week. This Sunday I will be even more thankful for this beautiful Wilby anthem.
Photo: Painting by John Singleton Copley, 1775