Sunday, May 08, 2016

Jesus Praying for Us

Seventh Sunday of Easter – Year C
Acts 16.16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17.20-26
Sunday, May 8, 2016 – St. Paul’s Emmanuel, Santa Paula

Generally speaking, we humans are a people of action. We tend to like forward momentum. We want to be doing something, anything, to keep things moving, to see some sign of progress. Particularly when we think something should be happening, we chomp at the bit. We just want to get on with it. We don’t do waiting very well.

Alas, as we begin the last week of the Easter season, we enter into a period of waiting. This is the time of waiting between the Ascension, which was this past Thursday, and Pentecost, which is next Sunday. Ascension marks the ending of Christ’s presence on earth – first physically and then in resurrected form following Easter. And Pentecost marks the coming of the Holy Spirit to be God’s continuing presence among us. Personally, I have always wondered why we had to wait a whole ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us after his departure. Why the delay? Why not have it all happen on one day – have Jesus’ departure followed immediately by the coming of the Holy Spirit, all in one fell swoop?

Now, of course, we cannot know for certain why there was a waiting period for Pentecost to occur. Obviously, God’s timing is not our timing. But suffice it to say, there must have been some reason for the waiting period. Perhaps it was to allow us time to adjust to the transition.

Our Gospel reading for today is about another time of waiting. One that was undoubtedly a far more agonizing waiting period than the one between Ascension and Pentecost. We hear the end of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples on Maundy Thursday. Jesus has told his disciples of the events that were about to happen. In the wake of this revelation, the disciples wait for Jesus’ death. And they wait for his resurrection. Jesus has done all he can to prepare them for this time of waiting. For this time of the unknown. He has prepared them in both word and action. He has shared a final meal with them. He has washed their feet as a sign of his love and as a symbol of what their ministry following his departure is to be about. He has delivered his Farewell Discourse, with explanations as to what will happen and of what will be expected of them. He has given them a new commandment that they are to love one another as he has loved them – the commandment that will be the foundation for their life together in his absence.

And now there is one final thing to be done. Jesus prays for the disciples and for the Church that would begin forming once the Holy Spirit is sent on Pentecost. This prayer, known as the “High Priestly Prayer,” is a prayer for unity. This prayer does double duty. Jesus is asking God to give the disciples the unity that they will need in the time to come. But it also sends the disciples a message about the unity that they will need to survive and to carry on following his departure.

Jesus frames this prayer in terms of the glory of God. In terms of the presence of God that has been revealed through the person of Jesus Christ – God incarnate. In his life and ministry with the disciples, they came to know something of the glory of God, of the love of God, in a very personal way. The glory of God that would be revealed even more in the events that would follow – through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Reading back through the lens of what, for them, was about to happen, we see that the glory of God is expressed in its fullest on the cross. How on the cross, the glory of God is fully manifest in the resulting salvation for all humanity through the forgiveness of all our sins, reconciling us to God and God to us. How the glory of God is fully manifest through the gift of new life.

Jesus then prays about how those who experience the glory of God are bound together in unity by this gift, just as he and his Father are bound together in that glory. Having received this gift, the unity of the Church is therefore a reflection of the unity of the Triune God. The Church is the unity of individuals called to proclaim the message of Jesus, the love of God, and the salvation that is the ultimate expression of that love. In this purpose, Jesus prays that “they may become completely one” (Jn 17.23).

Of course, unity does not mean uniformity. It is a recognition that God chooses us in our diversity to come together to proclaim his message of love and forgiveness in our own varied and unique ways. A diversity of individuals united in a common purpose – to share with the world the glory of God as manifest through Jesus Christ.

This prayer is asking God for what will be needed to strengthen us and prepare us for what lies ahead. To prepare us for the real work that will begin with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – when the followers of Jesus will be energized by the Spirit to carry on Christ’s work.

St. Paul’s Emmanuel is the embodiment of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. We are a body founded on diversity. Not just the diversity of our individual members, as is any congregation. But also the diversity of the liturgical practices and theological understandings of our Lutheran and Episcopal traditions. By the grace of God we have been brought together to be a living example of the unity Jesus is talking about. In this, Jesus’ prayer is specifically meant for us. We are a body that lives into the words of that prayer.

Of course, we in this congregation know the meaning of prayer. This is a congregation that knows the power of prayer. This is a congregation that celebrates the power of prayer. One of the things that I cherish about our parish, one of the things I lift up to others when describing who we are and how we operate, is the fact that we take prayer very seriously, sharing our prayer concerns and rejoicing in prayers answered at the end of each service.

That said, you of all people should understand and appreciate the prayer Jesus lifts up in today’s Gospel. For Jesus starts his prayer by saying, “I ask not only on behalf of these [that is, the disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” (Jn 17.20). We are those who believe in Christ through the words of the disciples and those who followed after. In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus is, therefore, praying for us. Specifically for us. Not just for this congregation, but for each and every one of us individually. He prays for the strength and the resources that we need to carry out the ministry he has called us to. This is an awesome thing. That even while we are praying for one another, today’s Gospel also shows us that Jesus is praying for us. Jesus is praying for you.

I want you to take a few moments in silence to think about what Jesus is praying for on your behalf – what he is praying for just for you. What do you need to be at one, as an individual, or with this body? What do you need to be more whole? What do you need to be more at peace in your life? What do you need to more fully show forth the glory of God in your life?

[Pause for a minute or so]

Now, image that in this moment Jesus is praying just for you. That Jesus is praying for those very things that you need to be more whole, more at peace, more fully who God is calling you to be. Not asking for those things. He already knows what you need. Just rest in the knowledge that Jesus is praying for you right now, praying for what you and only you need. Bask in the power of Jesus praying for you.

[Pause for a minute or so]

How does that feel, having Jesus praying just for you?

This is what this time between Ascension and Pentecost is about. A time for us to let Jesus pray for us, to prepare us for the transition from his presence among us as the resurrected Christ to the coming of the Holy Spirit. For the transition from the time when his ministry up until his Ascension officially becomes our ministry on Pentecost. A time to receive and to know the glory of God in your own life, preparing you for what is to come.

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