The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Reflection

‘Jesus said ‘Holy Father, protect my followers so that they may be one as we are one’.’ - John 17:11

Friends, patience is a virtue. Well, if that’s true, no one told the little children. Amelie hates waiting for anything. Offer her food and she expects it that second. Ask her if she wants to go out and she’s at the door even if she’s in her pyjamas! Tell her that today she is seeing her grandma and, well, she wants to know why her grandma isn’t there right now. Being patient and waiting doesn’t go down well with children. To be honest, us adults aren’t much better! Not content with a new episode of our favourite show every week, we now get them all in one go… and what do we do? Do we patiently work our way through? No, we binge watch them all! No, adults are no good at patience either. However, waiting, and having patience, is exactly what the disciples have been told to do when Jesus left them to go to heaven. Jesus told them to wait, He said: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ 

The celebration of the Ascension took place on Thursday, and today we continue our wait until Pentecost when God’s Holy Spirit was given to the disciples. As we wait, we are to use this time to reflect, and to help others to wait as well. To think more about Easter and all its wonder and strangeness. To reflect about the Resurrection and what it teaches us about who Jesus is. The earliest disciples of Jesus, had the same sort of opportunity for reflection in the week after Jesus’ Ascension, too. They, like us, had a great deal to reflect upon. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Just about fifty days ago, the master whom they had followed for a number of years now—Jesus of Nazareth—had ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, identifying Himself as Israel’s Saviour as the King of the Jews. The disciples must have been caught up in the excitement by the sudden transformation of their Master from wandering preacher to the man hailed as Israel’s king; no wonder John tells us in his gospel that Jesus’, ‘disciples did not understand all this’. Think back to the events they had seen  leading up to the first Easter: Just five days after Jesus had entered Jerusalem on the donkey—beginning in the depths of night—one of the disciples slips away early from dinner. Who knows what reason he gives,  but we can probably assume that once he has decided to do what he is going to do, there is no point waiting. In going, Judas not only betrays Jesus, but He also reduces the number of the apostles to eleven—and there are supposed to be twelve foundation stones to Jesus’ kingdom—so now one is empty! At some point in the future that is going to have to be sorted (see our first reading from Acts 1:15-17, 20-26). By the morning, Jesus of Nazareth was condemned for execution and the man around whom the disciples’ lives revolved had been stolen from them. There was no hope to get him back! This was the mission over, ended, kaput! Who on earth was this man that only days ago crowds had called God’s Anointed One and now they had changed their tune to ‘Crucify him!’? As they flee from Jesus’ crucifixion and deny Him, doubt sets in to the disciples’ minds. They go back to old ways of life fishing, keeping house, being good sons and daughters. However, their minds are quietly occupied by a question that won’t go away: ‘Who is this Jesus of Nazareth whom we thought we knew?’ But strange things keep happening making this reflecting all the harder! There was the whole reversal of fortunes again only a few days later. The empty tomb, that terrifying moment with Mary and the gardener when Mary didn’t even recognise Jesus when He stood in front of her. They know Him that well and yet they do not know Him at all! Who is this stranger? Who is this man? The events of Palm Sunday, of Good Friday, of Easter Day, and the days following it leave their ideas of who exactly Jesus is in pieces. It brings them—as they turn their doubts, and joys, and questions over and over in their minds—to a crushing conclusion: they really have no idea who Jesus is.

However, their Lord—and ours—knows exactly what they need. Luke tells us that, in the days between Jesus’ rising from the dead and his ascending into heaven, Jesus opened the disciples’ minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Jesus told them everything that had been written in the past about who He was! Jesus told them how His death and resurrection fulfilled the prophecies of old and transformed the relationship between heaven and earth once and for all. We know that the disciples finally understood, because the Acts of the Apostles are littered with accounts of the different places and contexts into which they told the good news of Christ. They could not have done that without understanding what our Lord himself taught them. They understood it properly, and deeply, and confidently. Then, when the disciples were fully prepared, after forty days Jesus left them. He went up into heaven to reign in majesty and He gave His disciples two commands. One is recorded by Matthew: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’. The other command is recorded twice by Luke; once in his Gospel and once in Acts: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ That is where we are today we are in Jerusalem with those earliest apostles and disciples. We have seen the majesty of Christ the King, ascended into heaven. We have come to understand how the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything anyone had ever previously thought about anything. But the disciples—in about 30 AD—have not yet received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Their work as witnesses has not yet begun. For now, they know the message—because they have been taught it by Jesus Himself—they now know who He is, and this is their Good News. But they have not been given license to speak it, yet! For now they must wait, they must reflect, they must wonder and marvel at who Jesus is in patient preparation. That is where we are today. For us, too, in our twenty-first context—where the good news of Christ is every bit as desperately needed by the world around us as it was in the first century—we are called to reflect, to wonder, and to marvel at who Jesus is. 

Our Gospel reading today is really a statement by Jesus of who He is to His Father. The reading we heard is part of the final prayer of Jesus, His final prayer before He is arrested. This prayer occurs straight after the disciples have confessed that, at long last, they are convinced that Jesus came from God. That Jesus is: God with us. But why is this good news? Why is it good news that Jesus is both God and a human being? Jesus prays that we understand this! He prays for those who will believe in Him through the disciples’ message: that is you and me. He prays for all of us who know and confess who He is, ‘that they may be one as we are one’. Let us dwell on that for a moment. Jesus and his Father are one. If Jesus is in the Father—and yet also fully human—then that means  that humanity and God the Father are also one.  In Jesus’ humanity, all of humanity is raised to the right hand of God. Being united to Jesus—and so being united to God—all of our brokenness, all of our mistakes, all of our darkness are swallowed up in light. We are able to be the people we are called to be and whom—in our clearest moments—we want to be, if only we didn’t keep tripping up and make mistakes by forgetting about God. United to Jesus we find that through co-operating we our made into our better selves. This is the good news that transforms everything. This is the good news that turns the world around, that by becoming man God has reached into our darkest darkness and that by ascending into heaven He has spiritually taken us up into his marvellous light. This is the good news that can change lives. The strength, and power, and importance of this good news is not something we should keep to ourselves; if we believe it, we must share it! We will never know everything fully, we will never reach a perfect understanding of Jesus, but that must not stop us going out to tell others. The apostles had to wait for the Holy Spirit, they had to be patient, but we don’t because when we became Christians we were given the Spirit.

So ask God’s Holy Spirit to help us to more fully grasp, to more fully understand, the Scriptures, and so know Jesus better, sure. But also ask that He would give you the words to invite others to come and see who Jesus is. Next week is our Mission weekend; be praying, be inviting, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Jesus has ascended, so let’s be about His business. No more waiting; it’s time for action! Amen (from Fr Mike).