Driving up to one of my grandchildren’s school this past week I saw the flag at half-mast and the reality of evil in the world became very personal again. I am certain that many of us felt the same. Regardless of our political views on how to counteract gun violence, I think we can agree that evil is real. People’s unnecessary pain is real.
Today is the seventh and last Sunday of Easter. And I, for one, am grateful we are still in this season for a bit longer. The paschal candle remains in the front of the church, lit at every service over the past 7 weeks to remind us the Risen Lord Jesus is with us every day of our lives. It is a time of deliberate celebration. Jesus promised our sorrow would turn to joy. We need this reminder of true joy, true life all the time, but especially this week. The contrast with the world and its events is dramatic; it is no wonder we seek to be together as the church community on a regular basis. The resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is real. We remember and celebrate this today. Evil does not win. Jesus the Christ has triumphed and does triumph still. Thanks be to God each and every day for this.
Easter is real. If you hear nothing else today keep those words close. Our risen Lord is with us always.
But don’t think I will sit down now, not yet. I want to say a few things about two of today’s lessons.
First, the gospel. Although we are hearing it on the last Sunday of Easter, the event described occurred on the last night before Jesus’ crucifixion. As Mother Beth explained in a recent sermon most of the private conversations the risen Christ had with his disciples during the 50 days following his resurrection was not recorded.
Instead, the gospels on these last few weeks have been Jesus’ conversation with those closest to him on the night before he died. Taken together these passages were intentional to prepare those disciples for what would happen the next day and for their future.
This was an intimate time Jesus spent with his closest friends. They had gathered for a special meal and peaceful moments together. Jesus spoke openly with them. He assured them of his deep love and gratitude for them. He let them know his confidence in them, that they will be able to carry out the work he has given them. On that night, this small group shared bread and wine and conversation and simply enjoyed being together. Then as the private time for assurance and explanation ended, Jesus prayed for his disciples. Today’s gospel is the end of that prayer.
At the heart of the entire prayer is Jesus’s love for his companions. He recognized and acknowledged the gift God gave him in these friends. The prayer contains the certainty of God the Father’s love for them also. The prayer is both an expression of Jesus’ gratitude for these companions, as well as a look to the future for what those dearest to him will need in order to continue the work that He has begun.
Looking at the entire 17th chapter of John, Jesus specifically prays for the disciple’s protection, protection from the evil one, protection from all that can harm their souls. While he had protected them while he has been physically with them, in this prayer, Jesus turns the disciple’s safety over to His father.
Jesus prays for the disciple’s unity. He prays that those he is leaving behind become one with each other and one with him and His father. The Trinity is echoed in this portion of the prayer. Jesus knows his strength comes from his bond with His Father and with the Holy Spirit. Wherever Jesus has been, the will of God has been present and carried out. Jesus seeks for his followers to have this same bond of unity that is between him and his Father.
“ 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.”, Jesus says.
Jesus also prays for his disciples to become sanctified, or “set apart” to do His work. His joy will be complete when they are the ones doing the will of the Father to spread His kingdom throughout the world.
Protection, unity, sanctification are all specific requests of God that Jesus, in his deep love for his disciples, prays in the first part of the17th chapter of John. The passage read this morning then expands Jesus’ prayer beyond that small group of original disciples to include all who will be his disciples throughout time. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one.” It is a powerful prayer, a lasting show of Jesus’ love for his followers across time. That means today it is Jesus’ prayer for us.
During Eastertide as a part of the Sunday lectionary there is a passage from the book of Acts. This is so we can learn how the early disciples accepted Jesus’ charge to continue in his work, spreading his message in the early times after Jesus’ ascension as we became the church.
Today’s story begins with a slave girl who earned a great deal of money for her owners telling others’ fortunes. She followed and pestered Paul and Silas for many days saying that basically they are the same as she—slaves of an owner. (Their owner being God.) However, Paul and Silas were not the same as the girl. They had chosen to follow Jesus and chosen to accept his call of continuing his work of spreading the gospel. They were not slaves as was she, having been bought against her will and used for the owners economic gain. Rather than argue with her about her choice of words, Paul, ever an interesting man, Paul, in his annoyance, asks in the name of Jesus for the spirit to come out from her. Perhaps impetuous, Paul who is tired of her bothering them ends it. This lead to trouble for Paul and Silas as her owners lost their source of income from her.
Eventually these two disciples are beaten, locked and shackled in a deep prison.
Remember Jesus prayed for protection, unity, and sanctification for his disciples. This particular story points out an example of how God answered that prayer. God sent an earthquake that shook the prison open and released the disciples from their chains. The circumstances of their release then became an evangelism opportunity as the gospel is shared with the jailer and he and his family become believers in Christ. God protected Silas and Paul. He and they were unified in love, and they were able to carry out their Christ-given purpose, of making new disciples. Jesus prayer was answered.
Some two thousand years ago Jesus prayed for his disciples. Today we are assured in this gospel that prayer carries on to us in current times. How humbling and yet strengthening this is. We are invited into the relationship that Jesus and his father have; we are invited to be one with them. It is our time now to hear this prayer. We make our choice to accept his love and then are made one with Jesus and His father. We are protected and set apart to carry on Jesus work in the world.
Oh, yes, we have a part to fulfill in this relationship. We have a large responsibility to God to share His love with the world around us. We are not just on the receiving end of God’s love. Neither are we slaves of God, but rather willing servants. It is our time now. Acknowledging the evil in the world is not enough. We must each do our part to bring God’s healing message of love to those nearby.
I am encouraged to see how our local communities are working on multiple levels to address the prevention of gun violence. Emmanuel is involved in a some of these too. There is much to be done and much help needed. Take some time to learn about these initiatives and pray about how you might work to share God’s love with all. And remember Jesus’ prayer today is for us. Easter is real.
May there be no more half-masts for the death of children; Jesus continue to pray for us.