Breaking News: We will have Morning Prayer next Sunday (May 20th) and Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist May 27 and June 3, 2018. Services at 10am as usual.
EASTER VII - B - 18 JOHN 17. 6-19
Did you notice the absence of the Paschal Candle? It is lighted on Easter Day and remains lit until the Feast of the Ascension, which occurred on Thursday. How many of you were here for that? It is a major feast day of the church and always but always falls on a weekday. Even in large churches like Grace, it was poorly attended.
Yet it remains a major event in the life of the church. As Jesus descended from heaven, he ascended back into heaven signaling the completion of his earthly ministry. He did so with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit to lead the church into all Truth.
If it is that important, why do not more people come to church to celebrate it? Good question. In today’s gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for that very day when he will be taken up from them. The scene is the upper room; the first Eucharist has just been celebrated to the astonishment of the disciples.
Now Jesus is praying for them in what is become known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is called the High Priestly Prayer for it contains the basic elements of a prayer a priest offers to God when a sacrifice is about to be made: glorification, remembrance of God’s works and intercession on behalf of others.
Jesus is praying for his disciples who will be left to continue his mission after he has ascended to the father. Jesus knows that the cross awaits him and that all kinds of trials and temptations await them. After the prayer, he and his disciples will leave the safety of the upper room, cross over the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, and descend to the garden below where he will pray again.
This time, his prayer will be that the cup the father has given him might pass him by. Then he will be arrested, and the rest we know all too well.
Did the disciples understand what Jesus meant when he said he was going to the father and what that would mean for them and the future of the church? I doubt it. They all scattered when Jesus was arrested. None of them were present for the crucifixion save John. No, it was not until Jesus appeared to them post resurrection in that same upper room bearing the marks of the crucifixion that they had any hope of a future.
Moreover, it was not until the Holy Spirit descended upon them, ten days after the Ascension on the Feast of Pentecost that they had the courage to step out into the world and begin to proclaim Him risen from the dead. With their baptism by the Holy Spirit, they were empowered to begin fulfilling their mission of representing Christ to the world.
Speaking of the word world, Jesus uses it some 13 times in today’s passage. The term “world” is used in several distinct ways in scripture. In some cases, it refers to all that glorious, beautiful, and redeemable in God’s creation. Other times it refers to that which is finite in contrast to that which is eternal. In still other instances, it indicates all that is in rebellion against God.
The rebellion against God reveals several things: (1) union with Christ brings love, truth, and peace; (2) it also brings persecution because the world hates love and truth. (3) The world hates Christ; therefore, it will hate all who try to live Christ like lives.
He prays knowing that his followers will have to deal with evil. He prays for their unity, that they may have joy, and that they will be sanctified in the truth (God’s word is truth). To sanctify is to make holy, to separate, and set apart from the world for the purposes of God.
For the disciples that purpose is to be sent into the world to testify to the Truth, that is, Jesus Christ, and to manifest the Love of God. I doubt any of this was on the minds of the disciple when Judas appeared in the garden with the Temple guards and arrested Jesus. No, I am certain their only thought was survival. It was everyman for himself.
The unity Jesus prayed for has suffered, and continues to suffer many strains and temptations, schisms and apostasies that continue to be repeated in every generation. Our generation is no exception.
The oneness Jesus prays for has to do with Truth, meaning doctrine, that is, what the Church teaches as Truth. The Body of Christ has been splintered in so many different directions over the centuries that the unity Jesus prayed for in the upper room and continues to pray for at the right hand of the father sadly does not exist.
I, for one, do not believe that God ever intended for there to be denominations. For the first thousand years of the life of the Church, there was only one church. For the next six hundred years, there were two. However, the result of the Protestant Reformation in the 1600s has been a continual splintering of the Body of Christ into literally thousands of Christian denominations each claiming to be the true Church and claiming to possess the Truth.
No wonder the mission Christ gave to the Apostles has suffered. In some cases, whole countries once predominately Christian are no longer so. Even our own nation has seen a decline in maintaining the principals of the Christian faith. Christianity can be easily attacked here but hands off to any other religion for fear their followers might be offended.
Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, but I have no doubt that He weeps yet for the state of the Church.
The Ascension is important, then, for two reasons. At the Ascension Jesus took our humanity into heaven. He sits at the right hand of the father and intercedes on our behalf. He has lived the earthly life. He knows how weak we are and how easily we can be deterred in the mission He has given us as Church.
He knows the temptations by which we are plagued. He knows the fears we face. He knows, because He lived and died as one of us. He is one of us and at the same time, the great High Priest that has passed into the heavens, having made the sacrifice that was required for our salvation and the salvation of the world.
Secondly, the prayer he prayed for his disciples in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed, he continues to pray - for us, his present day followers. Christ intercedes on our behalf for God’s preservation in the revelation that has come through Him, so that our unity in Truth may be that of the Father and the Son.
Himself God’s missionary, he has made us his missionaries. The mission has not changed. As he was sent, so he sends us. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” remember? His consecration of himself is in view of our consecration to his mission.
Since we have been reborn in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism we have our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, yet our vocation is in this world that is in rebellion against God; a world that prefers darkness to light.
However, knowing that Christ continues to pray for our protection amid the evil of this world should encourage us to carry out the mission of representing Christ to the world by sharing the love of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ also prays that our joy might be full; to be filled with joy is to live with the hope that one day we will be exalted to that place where He has gone before and now sits at the right hand of the Father; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. AMEN+