“If you are a theologian, you will pray. And if you pray, you are a theologian.” -Evagrius Ponticus
1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.
1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.
5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.
17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;
17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.
17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
WHEN our house had burned down in early February 2008 Nathan & I, as yet still in shock, tried to prepare ourselves for the excruciating aftermath that was to follow, that was in fact torturously worse than losing our home & all our worldly belongings in the actual conflagration. What made it worse was that it went on & on without an end in sight for years. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. It was the indefinitude of not being able to know when it was all going to be over & our lives might be able to regain some semblance of normalcy again after being dominated every day by the fire & its consequences. The fire became the dominating sun around which all our subsequent daily lives orbited. & This went on for years, not just months. & WHEN not just the approximately two years anticipated elapsed still without resolution we stoically, resolutely soldiered on. Two years became 5, & still wasn’t resolved. I would go to the cathedral for worship of a Sunday & well meaning friends knowing of our situation would ask us how it was going? which only made us cringe the more as we were still daily exhaustingly ensnared in its machinations. It went on & on. 5 years became 6, then 7, & then 8. Finally after 8 & a half years the resistant insurance company finally payed us out but only after being compelled to & at significant cost in lawyers fees. The city’s bureaucracy thirst for endless hurdles was met. & we realized that because of those intervening 8.5 years we could no longer afford to rebuild our house & return to that home ever again anymore. But the ordeal the torturous aftermath was finally over.
“WHEN” is the opening question of today’s scripture readings. “When will you restore the kingdom?” -the eager disciples ask, “Is this the time when?” (Acts 1:6). It is like children on the proverbial road trip “Are we there yet?”
Both the Hebrew & Christian scriptures are full of this longing ache for resolution. And this is our current experience too! Only this week our Archbishop wrote:
“Dear People of the Diocese of New Westminster
Greetings and peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I think about our gradual return to worship in our church buildings, I’m reminded of the many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures about journey and return. Whether it’s the story of Abraham setting out from Haran, the story of the Israelites crossing the wilderness on their way to the promised land, or the story of Ruth and Naomi, the theme of journey is a central way that the Hebrew Scriptures show us what it means to be person of faith along the twists and turns of our lives.
When it comes to the theme of return, however, one story from the Hebrew Scriptures dominates—the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. While you and I have certainly not experienced what they did–a forced removal from their homeland, the destruction of the centre of their religious identity and the suffering that comes in captivity–through this pandemic, you and I have surely experienced dislocation, loss and pain.
And so what can we learn from this story?
First, in that during their captivity, the exiles lost what they had come to rely on to make meaning of much in their lives, their return was not simple or easy. It happened in phases, with different groups returning at different times and with some never returning. Secondly, the exiles’ return meant coming to terms with disrupted expectations upon their return. Things were not going to go back to “normal” in that those returning were not able to rebuild their temple or their lives exactly as they had existed before. And, third, the return from exile meant that religious life, itself, would be different. For the Jewish people were changed by the losses they had suffered and resilience they had discovered in themselves.
As followers of Jesus, we know this story. This is not just because the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures are a part of our story. Through the life, death, resurrection of Jesus, we understand what it means to be a part of God’s story as enacted in Christ Jesus: a story in which we move and are moved from fear to trust, from isolation to community, from disorientation to reorientation and from death to new life. This is what we draw on as we take steps to gather together again after a time of confusion, fear and loss.”
Today’s gospel is about abandonment, absence & loss. And their devastating impact on us. Jesus’ bewildered disciples don’t know how to continue Jesus’ mission in the face of his death and ascension/departure. John’s readers are dealing with the very real challenge of trying to live out a mission of love for the world, while still reeling from the loss of their leader. Today’s gospel specifically addresses our fears of abandonment, absence & loss.
WHEN? is the question that predominates our current existence too. when will it (this COVID-19 crisis) be over? (will it ever?) When will our lives be able again to resume some semblance of normalacy? When will be able to assemble again? When will businesses be able to reopen. When will be able to go back to the way things were? (will we ever?)
Although liturgically the Church has placed the gospel reading offered for our reflection today, as the culminating end of the Easter season, following last Thursday’s celebration of the Ascension, textually it is a small fragment of a unit that encompasses John chapters 14-17 sometimes identified by scholars as the “farewell discourse”, but in John’s gospel this prayer occurs on Maundy Thursday at the end of the last supper, leading into the passion… “After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered” (18:1). Liturgically Mother Church seeks to console us because “And now I am no longer in the world, and I am coming to you Abba.” But John isn’t quite done connecting the dots for us. The disturbing unsettled inbetweeness this produces is both faithful to the scripture & appropriate to these times we find ourselves in.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ answer to the WHEN question is not very satisfying to us. “Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Jesus’ answer, “Relax, Breathe, just for a second live in the present moment, & let God be God” only frustrates & perplexes us; Jesus’ answer is “In God’s good time.” It puts us in our place, obviously not in control. It invites us to refrain from fretting, to be patient & to trust in God (in whose hands are all our times as an recently oft repeated psalm reminds us 31:14-15a). & that God’s priorities & timetable are not necessarily aligned with ours (Psalm 90:4).
And what are we to do in this meantime of waiting? The Lukan witness is clear we are not to just stand about gazing heavenward twiddling our thumbs (Acts 1:9-14). Instead that nascent apostolic community “constantly devoted themselves to prayer”. Prayer is not the last resort, the thing to do when all else fails. Rather prayer is communion with God. Being united to God. Intimacy with God. So that we are grounded in God & when all comes unravelled we are already in tune with God’s priorities & timetable.
Jesus in John’s gospel today establishes the paradigm which that earliest apostolic community defaulted to in their confused between/meantime. Jesus prays. Jesus prays frequently in the gospels. He prays when he needs to stop & focus. In the wilderness before commencing his ministry, on a mountain top before choosing his apostolic band, in the garden before he surrenders to his passion, to mention but a few examples. As we have observed before Jesus prays the psalms. And as any good rabbi he instructs his disciples in how to pray. John’s gospel however lacks the familiar Lord’s Prayer as related in Matthew (6:9-13) & Luke (11:2-4). Instead, John has this chapter 17 before us today. Which amazingly echoes & resonates much of the familiar “Our Father”. “Holy Father” John’s Jesus prays (in the final verse of today’s pericope 17:11& 25!). Which is hauntingly reminiscent of “(our) Father, hallowed be your name’. But, & in that same last verse, perhaps most importantly, Jesus prays, “protect them in your (holied) name” which corresponds to the familiar ” but deliver us from (the) evil (one)” (& Cf. a only few verses later, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” 17:15)! “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is virtually what the whole of the chapter 17 prayer is about, Jesus unreservedly committing himself to God’s plan of “glorification”. “And forgive us our sins” corresponds with “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth” (17:17,19). Raising the possibility that perhaps chapter 17 is John’s characteristically theologized version of the Lord’s Prayer!
As I already reflected substantially upon this chapter 17 two Sunday’s ago, to help us better understand chapter 14’s “I am” sayings, I shan’t say much more today. Other than to point out that the context is as already noted, prayer. Jesus at prayer. Note that Jesus is praying for us, specifically for you. “‘I ask not only on behalf of these (those whom you gave me), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” (17:8-9&20). Jesus is praying for you. Jesus is praying for you in this time of fear, isolation, abandonment, absence & loss. This is part of why Jesus ascends. He ascends to the right hand of his Father. From whence enthroned position he makes intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).
And what does Jesus pray? “I am not asking you to take them out of the world” (17:15), sounds quite like “save us in the time of trial” doesn’t it? Or like today’s epistle, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus’ disciples do not seek to evade such suffering common to humanity (5:9) or as glorified their Lord. “But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed”(1 Peter 4:13). Instead we are invited to pray, to “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).
What does Jesus pray of his Abba? That the Father might be glorified (this is code in John’s gospel as we’ve seen for the scandalously cross-bound, cross-uplifted Lord Cf. 3:14;8:28;12:32). That Abba might thereby be fully known. That we followers of this his radical way, might be protected from every evil. That we might be deeply united, have union, with each other, him & his Abba. That we might all be together. Deeply intertwined & interwoven, unitively. And that the whole cosmos might know Divine love. These are the outrageous things Jesus & we dare boldly ask.
Quite frankly I am reticent to be be preaching upon this prayer at all (Matthew 6:7). This text is invitation, we are overhears in the intimate communion between our Lord & his Abba, it needs more than anything else to be prayed upon. So let this prayer be your invitation into prayer. Take time now. In order to grasp its meaning, it is not sufficient to reflect with the just the head, with reason. This text has to be meditated upon and accepted in the heart as well. It is a text not so much to be discussed, but to meditate & reflect upon. Do not be worried if you do not understand it immediately. This text requires a whole life of deepening pondering. Such a text should be read, meditated on, thought over, read again, repeated, savoured. For this, close your eyes, keep silence within and listen to the Jesus who speaks to you, transmitting in this his testament his greatest concern, his last will. Listen to discover what Jesus repeats the most and what He considers most important.
Against our rampant feelings of despair, fear, isolation, abandonment, absence & loss, Jesus is praying for us, Jesus is praying for you. Jesus principally prays for unity. “And now I am no longer in the world, I am coming to you, Holy Father, I am asking, that they may be one, in your name, as we are one, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,” (17:11,21). This is prayer, communion, union with Abba. And this deep, intimate union has a purpose, “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (17:22-23). So that the whole cosmos might know Divine love.
Prayer does not mean starring heavenward & twiddling our thumbs. Being so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good. Prayer is to be so deeply immersed in the loving heart of God that we are moved into action for God’s whole creation. Jesus is no longer in the world. The incarnation is fulfilled. Jesus has been resurrected. He has ascended to the Father from whence he came (17:11 & 1:1). But we are still in the world, Jesus’ works are now in our hands (14:12), and Jesus is counting on us to be his presence in the wake of his absence. What if the resurrection of Jesus was just the beginning and not the conclusion of the Gospel? What if the promises of the resurrection are, in part, ours to fulfill? What is important is not knowing “when” but that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1:8) But, I am getting ahead of myself, not dwelling in the now, that is next’s Sunday’s good news…
In the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
the Reverend Brian Heinrich
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
-frere Charles de Foucald