Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 16: 16-34; Revelation 22: 12-21; John 17: 20-26
I heard a friend say about someone, "I guess he thinks he's God's gift to humanity." My thought: that's quite a responsibility. Perhaps a critical thought during these days of Ascensiontide.
You might think there would be a sense of let-down in the days following Ascension Thursday.
Whatever it was that happened up at the top of the mountain, one thing seems sure, and that is that the vivid and intense experience of the presence of the risen Christ is no longer with them in quite the way that he was before.
He was lifted up into heaven, but they are left behind, returning to that upper room in Jerusalem where only a few weeks before they had been with them at the Last Supper, where on the evening of Easter Sunday he had returned and shown himself to them. No longer in death but now with them in the fullness of his glorious resurrection. Returning to the Upper Room, without him.
But of course the lessons appointed for us this Sunday are not about his absence, but about his continuing presence and his power.
The power that shakes the ground under the jail in Philippi and knocks down the walls. And even more, the power that takes hold of the life of the jailer, who is so transformed by the presence of Christ in Paul and Silas that he is brought to his knees and then lifted up himself into a saving life of faith.
The power of the vision of St. John the Divine, risen and ascended and ruling Christ on the throne, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the root and the flower of Israel, the fountain of living water, bringing forth life, refreshing, fulfilling and completing. What a great vision that is. Sacred poetry.
And the potential of Christ’s power to come alive in us, in the words of St. John’s gospel, coming from the great prayer of Jesus on the night of Holy Thursday. Jesus thanks the Father, “the glory that you have given me I have given them . . . .” And we would just pause over that. Thinking that we all are lesser lights certainly compared to Jesus himself. But that’s not what he says. “The glory that you have given me I have given them.” Think about that as we brush our teeth in the morning and look into the mirror.
Thinking about how we are called to the stewardship of that glory. To be "God's gift to humanity." His grace in us, his holiness, the gift to heal the broken, to forgive and bring about reconciliation. Each generation taking its turn.
Most probably we would say not doing such a great job of it. That we would say, “if you want to know what God is all about, if you want to know the heart of Jesus, just look at his church.”
Maybe we have our moments, every generation or two. But it is perhaps at least an opportunity for the grace of humility. Fighting with one another, breaking relationship, abuse and cover-up, power and greed, political ambition. You know all the headlines. Sometimes about the other guys. All too often about us too. I remember singing the song around the campfire at youth retreats: “they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
But it is the Sunday after the Ascension and the Sunday before Whitsunday and Pentecost, and it’s a day not to feel left behind but instead to be at the threshold and doorway to a new and great adventure, not simply to see Christ and to know him, but even more to be filled with his power, energized, equipped. Pick ourselves up if we need to, brush ourselves off. Start again.
That we might feel that anywhere. Here at St. Andrew’s. In each of our homes, as we live our lives. Anywhere and everywhere, at all times and in all places. Like Paul and Silas, singing hymns of praise into the night until no jail on earth can hold them in, until not one who hears them singing can reject the invitation.
Knowing him as John the Divine knew him in that ecstatic vision, Jesus himself lifted up to the throne of heaven. And it’s a whole new ballgame for us now--that his power, the power that came through his cross, the power of his resurrection, and his Holy Spirit now working in us, working in and through us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
It is a great gift, a great responsibility, the opportunity of our lives. “The glory you have given me, I have given them.”