In this today's gospel reading Our Lord is praying to the Father. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles are gathered to make an important decision.
The gospel passage is part of a longer passage, the whole of chapter 17 of St John's gospel. In his prayer, Christ is looking back to the past and looking forward to the future. He is talking to the Father about the divine mission which had been entrusted to him, making himself accountable, as it were, to the Father regarding his mission. Part of that mission has been completed; during his ministry he had a special concern for those entrusted to him:
While I was with them, I kept those you had given me true to your name; I have watched over them.
He is also looking to the future
But now I am coming to you.
The Christ is looking forward to the Ascension, which marks the end of Eastertide, and in which turn looks towards Pentecost. The Easter gospels tell us that after his passion and death, the apostles and disciples believed that they had lost him, that everything he had taught them, the promises he had given them, had come to nothing. Death, it would seem, is final and absolute; nothing survives death.
By his resurrection Our Lord showed that death, for himself and for all those who believe in him, was never final, but could be conquered. It is the belief of the Church that death is not an end, but the prelude to a new and glorious life.
When Our Lord appeared to them after the Resurrection, the apostles and disciples were confused and suspicious. Was it really he? Gradually they accepted that he had come back to them, and that their lives would be as they had been before his passion. When Our Lord eventually told them that he would be leaving them, they were sad, and felt insecure, so much so that they did not ask the two important questions; where are you going and why are you going? They had to learn that the Ascension would mark the triumphant end of Our Lord's earthy ministry, that his ministry would continue, and that they would be involved.
Our Lord is also concerned about the hatred which greeted his divine message on earth,
I passed on your word to them, and the world hated them
Because they belong to the world
No more than I belong to the world.
His church would experience the same hatred in the future; the church would always be in the world, if not of it. It would need protection from the hatred of the world, and from the evil one.
Our Lord is also looking towards Pentecost. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes how the Eleven decided on a replacement for Judas, what qualifications were required of him,
We must therefore choose someone the whole time that the Lord Jesus was travelling round with us, right from the time when John was baptising until the day he was taken up from us…
and what he would do,
He can act with us as a witness to his resurrection.
The number of the apostles was restored to twelve with the election of Matthias. We can see that when Eastertide ends with the Ascension, the church in its liturgy is looking towards Pentecost, when the twelve, gathered in the upper room, received the gift of the Spirit, and the church was born.
Today, the church prepares us for that great triumphant occasion.