Here we are, 3 days after the feast of the Ascension and our Gospel reading is taken from the Last Supper supported by a retelling of the Ascension and what happened immediately afterwards and finally an excerpt from a letter of Peter to one of the early Christian communities. What can we say about them? They are separated in time; twice! The events themselves are separated by 40 plus days and 2 decades. The writing of them is spread over 30 years and written in the reverse order to when the events took place; Peter first, Acts second and the Gospel third. But what holds them all together is the building up of a unity of purpose between God and his people.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus does all his praying in the presence of his disciples in the upper room. His only purpose in going to the Garden is for Judas to betray him and the authorities to arrest him. For Jesus this has been his final teaching session with the disciples and it has taken John 4 chapters to narrate all the things that Jesus had to say. And for once he had in the words of his disciples “spoken plainly, and used no figure of speech… by this we believe that you came forth from God.” So having completed his teaching Jesus ends as we all do at meetings with a prayer. In fact he ends with 3 prayers; one for himself, one for the disciples and finally one for all believers. Our Gospel today is the prayer for himself and the first half of the one for the disciples.
Jesus’ prayer for himself is one of thanksgiving to his father for the opportunity to become incarnate and reveal to the world the eternal life that is available to all who come to believe in the Father through him. There has been unity of purpose from the very beginning as John says as he opened his Gospel with “between the Word who was with God and was God.”
In his second prayer, Jesus brings his disciples into that unity to share in its purpose and to take over the task of making it happen once he has gone. Just imagine being in that room. You have just stated as a group that your teacher has come forth from God and he prays this about you. “Father, you gave these people to me and they have obeyed you. They know everything I taught them came from you. I am not praying for the world right now, I am praying just for them. When I come back to you protect them with the power of your name, so that they may be one as we are one.”
Somewhere else Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with you.” So imagine again that presence of Jesus saying that prayer over you after every PCC or act of worship before you go back out into the world to do his bidding.
So now we step forward to the Ascension and Jesus has just said again that they were to be his messenger to go out into the world aide by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after 2 strangers dressed in white utter those immortal words “He’ll be back!” What do they do next? The adventure is over. They could return to their former lives and see if anything comes of the last 3 years. No! They have now got the message and have a unity of purpose. So they go back to Jerusalem and the upper room to pray for guidance and it wasn’t just the eleven. The women were there along with his mother and family. The mission was beginning to grow. Twenty years later there are communities of believers springing up all over the lands around the Eastern Mediterranean. Peter writes a letter of encouragement to one of those groups. He reminds them of their unity of purpose. Take heart if you are singled out for your belief because that belief tells you that God is with you and his blessings are upon you. Do not give in to temptation, your Faith will see you through as it will for other believers across the world who are enduring the same kind of suffering. Peter knows that the Light of the World shines within them and they are not nurturing it on their own. God’s Spirit is also within them, guiding and helping them on their way and Peter is passing on to them the prayer Jesus made over him at the Last Supper.
Two thousand years later all our communities are suffering, no matter what they believe. Coronavirus is not the devil but it has challenged us to live out our Christian belief in how we respond to the crisis. We have met our own needs by coming to grips with virtual and multimedia prayer and worship. We have met the needs of others in many and varied ways; volunteering, making things, being a voice on the phone and the chat over the garden fence. The great thing is that this spirit of working for the common good has infected almost everyone.
I believe the expression that we are all made in God’s image applies to the whole of humanity but we don’t always see it. In Disney’s The Lion King Rafiki the wise old monkey, tells the adult Simba who is grieving the death of his father that he knows where his father is. He takes Simba to a pool of water, and tells him to look down. Simba complains, “That’s not my father, that’s just my reflection.” “No, look harder,” Rafiki says. As he looks, Simba begins to recognise his father in his own reflection. “You see?” Rafiki hums, “He lives in you.”
When we feel lost, aimless in our mission, forgetting who we are remember that we are connected to God. Remember that God lives in you. Remember that it is in living out God’s love for the world that we have the oneness with God that echoes throughout Jesus’ final prayer.
We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people God,
giving and loving,
wherever we are,
whatever it costs
For as long as it takes
wherever you call us.
Lord in your mercy. Hear our Prayer