Exaudi Sunday takes place between the Ascension (always a Thursday) and Pentecost, ten days later.

I have read that it is the saddest Sunday of the Church year. The faithful recall the forlorn disciples, among them the Apostles, who saw Christ’s ascent into heaven and then awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

There are several New Testament readings of import for this time. I shall run the risk of repeating myself with the following

Luke 3:16-17 with John the Baptist’s succinct prophecy:

16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John 16:5-11 from the Last Supper where Jesus said (emphases mine):

5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Acts 1:4-9 with His final words before returning to God the Father:

4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension

 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them,  “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

In English (ESV) Psalm 17:1 is as follows:

1Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry!
   Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
2From your presence let my vindication come!
   Let your eyes behold the right!

Another match is Daniel 9:17, which was the basis for the Exaudi Domine which Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1526-1594) wrote:

17Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.

It is a beautiful chant. The minor key brings to life the sense of loss Jesus’s loyal band of disciples must have felt between Ascension and Pentecost:

This is a collect often used on Exaudi Sunday:

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

And, for us today, we who long for Christ’s return, we have the Holy Spirit working through the Law and the Gospel for our salvation.

As Dr Gregory Jackson, host of Ichabod, explains:

The manifold grace of God is another way of saying the Gospel. The word Gospel is used often, but most of the time the term is abused.

Although the Holy Spirit works through the Law, its role is limited. The Law stirs up knowledge of sin without solving the problem of sin. The Law makes us feel the guilt of sin but the Law cannot forgive our sins. All the “transforming” preachers of today use the Law to make people feel they do are not producing the fruit of the Gospel, but those law condemnations do not produce the desired fruit. The law programs to do that only make matters worse, filling people with notions of being holier than the rest. This is important to realize from Luther. The Gospel alone forgives, saves, and bears the fruit of the Spirit

The Law makes us fearful, but the Gospel gives us peace through forgiveness of sin. That forgiveness is complete and free. That is why the law-salesmen become so angry and vindictive, when their kingdom of merits is threatened in any way. They want people enslaved by their man-made laws, not set free by the Gospel. They want people to ignore the Word for their words (which are never-ending) …

God’s will is carried out only through His Word, and this Word is always united with the divine energy of His Holy Spirit. Isaiah 55:8-11

The Holy Spirit works through the Law to condemn our sins against the Ten Commandments, our spiritual sins (First Table) against God, which lead to the more visible sins against our neighbor (Second Table).

God uses the preaching and teaching of the Gospel to plant and sustain faith in the crushed hearts of contrite sinners. The Gospel message is summarized:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” KJV John 3:16.

The proclamation of the Gospel is carried out through the invisible Word of preaching and teaching, the visible Word of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. God grants grace only through His instruments, the Means of Grace.

Those who believe in the Gospel of Christ receive what He has promised, complete and free forgiveness of sin. God declares that person forgiven – justification by faith. Romans 5:1-2.

The fruits of the Spirit follow from faith in Christ, and God is glorified by all things done in faith. Those who wish to harvest more for the Kingdom should broadcast the Word with complete abandon, trusting in God’s Promises.

To enjoy the benefits of the Gospel, we abide in the Means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments. They are the treasures of the Church which give us 100% of the blessings God wishes to impart to us.

These are the gifts and benefits on which we may reflect between the Ascension and Pentecost — and beyond.

The Church and Her faithful have endured persecution as Jesus foretold at the Last Supper in John 15:26 – John 16:4:

26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

1“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

As the Holy Spirit was sent to the original 70 disciples, so He continues to be with us today. Martin Luther (H/T: Dr Jackson) had this to say on Exaudi Sunday about the aforementioned verses from John’s Gospel in light of the Church:

We have the comfort of this victory of Christ—that He maintains His Church against the wrath and power of the devil; but in the meantime we must endure such stabs and cruel wounds from the devil as are necessarily painful to our flesh and blood. The hardest part is that we must see and suffer all these things from those who call themselves the people of God and the Christian Church. We must learn to accept these things calmly, for neither Christ nor the saints have fared better.”
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 263. Exaudi John 15:26-16:4.

“Nevertheless, He has said that the Holy Spirit should testify of him and that they also should bear witness; and He assures them that their testimony shall not be effaced by this rage and persecution of the world.”
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 258. Exaudi John 15:26-16:4.

Therefore, let us continue to witness in our own lives as Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Exaudi Sunday is the last Sunday in Eastertide, which ends on the day before Pentecost. Pentecost Sunday in 2013 is May 19.

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