Morning Prayer this Sunday at 10am.]
EASTER VII - C - JOHN 17: 20-26
Unfortunately the feast of the Ascension itself falls during the week and is poorly attended and thus often overlooked. Yet it is one of the major feasts of the church and ranks in importance alongside Christ’ death and resurrection as we are reminded each week in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
According to tradition the ascension occurred forty days after Easter and completed the glorification of Christ. At the Incarnation Christ brought his divine nature to earth. In the mystery of the Ascension, Christ brings our human nature to the divine kingdom. The ascension is the last of our Lord’s earthly appearances and is described at length by St. Luke in Acts 1. 6-11. According to St. Luke Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of the disciple’s sight.
Jesus moved from earth where his presence was a matter of fact to a cloud where his presence with us is a matter of faith. A cloud is a biblical symbol of the presence of God who can be seen only by faith. Thus the ascension is not about Jesus being taken away from us, but Jesus being given to us for all times and in all places as a matter of faith.
The ascension completed Christ’s earthly ministry bringing the Incarnation full circle. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven where he reigns in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit and intercedes on our behalf until he comes again in power and great glory to judge.
Today’s gospel is a portion of the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus that focuses on Christ’ future disciples. It was Jesus’ hope, his desire, that those whom the Father had given him would one day be with him in glory, and that we, who continue the mission he began, would be one, as He is one with the Father.
Love is the unifying factor, it permeates Christ’ prayer: “so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them,” and “… so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me,” Jesus prayed.
The unity Jesus prayed for is centered on relationship - our relationship to God and through Christ, our relationship with one another as his followers. The essential aspect of relationships is thinking, hoping, dreaming, wishing and praying for and about the future. That is exactly the essence of Jesus’ prayer - the future of the mission which he began.
Today’s prayer is part of the farewell discourses of Jesus, his final words to his disciples before the crucifixion. It is a prayer addressed to the Father, but said loud enough so that his disciples can hear it. It is about them and the future of the church’ mission Christ is entrusting to them.
This prayer is an especially appropriate one for us to hear this day. The 7th Sunday of Easter finds us waiting between the feast of the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is a time for us, as it was for the disciples, to wonder about the future. We know that the mission of the church, to make disciples of all nations, has not yet been fulfilled, and that, sadly, the church is not one in spirit as Jesus prayed and hoped for. Thus there is still much work to be done on both accounts.
Today’s gospel reminds us of Jesus’ hope for the mission of the church. He continues to pray that through us the world may come to see and know the love the Father has for each of us and for the world which he has made. That is the desire and the confidence that Jesus had for the future of his first followers; a desire and confidence he made known to them in uttering his prayer. It is the hope yet held out for our future.
The Eucharist, as the “memorial of our redemption,” recalls Christ’ death, resurrection and ascension. The Eucharist reminds us of God’s love that sent his only Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it; God’s sacrificial love manifested on the cross; God’s everlasting love that binds us together in one community and fellowship. In the Eucharistic prayer we ask that we be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him, as we receive His Body and Blood. These words echo the prayer of Jesus in John’s gospel.
It is here at God’s altar, we come to experience the presence of God. It is here we come to remember Christ’ death, resurrection and ascension. It is here that we come to be filled with the indwelling love of Christ. It is here that we are feed and strengthened with that love to be sent into the world to face the future having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In any relationship, it is natural to have hopes and dreams for the future for those we love. Even though Jesus vanished from the sight of the disciples, the love of the risen Lord did not disappear. It is among us and with us each time we come together to break the bread and share the cup. In it we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus and claim the hope that one day “we will be exalted to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before.”
In the sacrament of his Body and Blood we are assured that Jesus dwells in us, and that if we dwell in him, others will come to know and to have faith in that love. Love is the unifying agent; faith is its expression. The hopes and dreams of Jesus for us and the future of His Bride, the Church, will be fulfilled, if we continue to share the love the Father has given to the Son, to a world, which for the most part, has yet to know him.
There is no need, then, to wonder about the future, ours or the Church. For our future rests in Him who died and rose again, and who now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf until He comes again in great power and glory to judge the world. Even so, Come Lord Jesus. AMEN+