Homily Easter 7

Easter 7 Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11 (part)

John 17:11 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.”

So, now the disciples time with Jesus was over. He had returned to the Father.

Of course, just a few short weeks ago, on Good Friday it had happened before.  Indeed, the words we heard Jesus saying in our Gospel reading were said at their last supper with Jesus, before he went out into the night, to abandonment, dereliction and the cross.

So, in a sense, they had been here before – but how different the disciples felt now!

Where once they had cowered behind closed doors out of fear and in the throes of devastating disappointment, now they waited, in quite possibly the same room, with intense expectation; their lives held in tension between what had been and what was to come. And in that place of hopeful anticipation, they prayed.  That is all they did, and all they needed to do. 

When once they felt they had lost everything, now they knew that God was working wonderfully and creatively through these tumultuous events. 

What looked, and indeed had felt, like failure was somehow triumphant. 

What seemed like loss was actually nothing of the kind. 

  • Love had triumphed over evil,
  • peace over violence,
  • joy over grief,
  • life over death.

So, yes, they waited in expectation now, not fear – but what, exactly, were they expecting?

Could they really have had any idea of what – or rather, who – was to come? 

Jesus had said to them at the last supper that: “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  John 15:26

So he had told them about the advocate, the Holy Spirit, but they must, surely, have wondered what that meant in reality.

We still grapple with that of course – hence the different ways the word used by Jesus is translated: not just Holy Spirit, but paraclete, advocate, comforter – and apparently there are 32 different descriptive names for the Holy Spirit in the Bible!

But I digress – back to those disciples!

Certainly, given the resurrection events, what had seemed to them impossible was possible, and what had seemed to be the end of hope, was actually far from it - but they can still have had little or no perception as to what God would do next.

What they did know was that seen through the prism of Good Friday and Easter, the world had changed, and everything Jesus had ever said to them could now be understood in fresh ways.

Whatever God did next would, they knew, be exciting, fearfully so!

The sense of anticipation must have been extraordinary – if God could raise Jesus from the dead, there was no limit to his power.  Death, after all, was the great leveller, the one thing all peoples would experience: Romans, Greeks, Jews, everyone.  And yet, it had been defeated. 

How, they might have thought, would God top that?

Whatever he did, though, they knew there would be work to do. 

Before he was lifted up to heaven, Jesus had told them that – told them that they would be his witnesses, that in the power of the Holy Spirit they would tell the whole world about him.

There is absolutely no suggestion they would return to their old way of living – the Holy Spirit was clearly going to be no less challenging than Jesus had been. 

Because I don’t think anyone could say that he had given his disciples an easy time while he was with them. 

Challenging their thinking, challenging their assumptions and prejudices, challenging their commitment – yet, at the same time, utterly faithful, forgiving and encouraging. 

They could expect the Holy Spirit to be no different: in short, a very discomforting comforter!

And at this time of Covid-19, we may feel a little bit like the disciples waiting in that upper room – there is a tension between what our lives were before, and what they will be in the future.

But as we wait, we wait in expectation as they did, we wait knowing that God, in the midst of all the chaos, all the fear, all the danger, is doing something; something unexpectedly creative, and something he is calling us to be a part of.

The disciples can be our pattern:  after the ascension, they went back to Jerusalem, back to the upper room, and they prayed, and they prayed and they prayed.  They longed for God to show them what he was doing, how they were to act, how they, so weak, fickle and unreliable, could witness to Christ as the way, the truth and the life.

They had seen how vital prayer had been in Jesus’ relationship with the Father; how powerfully it had enabled him in his work; how it had strengthened and sustained him in his darkest hours.  And they had seen the result! Resurrection.

So they prayed as Jesus had prayed and at Pentecost we see and experience God’s answer -the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church: the beginning of a journey which has brought us together today.

A journey which began with prayer. Every Christian journey does.

 

As we heard, in this period between Ascension and Pentecost – the departure of Jesus,  and the arrival of the Holy Spirit – the disciples devoted themselves to prayer and, as a result, were utterly transformed. 

So in these strange unsettling times, we wait, as did those first disciples, in expectation not fear, longing for that same transformational power.

For we have seen what God in Christ has done, and over succeeding centuries we have seen what faithful, prayerful Christians have done in his name: sharing his love, speaking his words, offering his peace.  Witnessing to him, as he said that we would.  He is calling you, too – pray, so that you may hear his voice.

Yes, prayer will transform you wonderfully and personally, but every year at this time, the church places a particular emphasis on praying for the whole world to know Christ - yes, the whole world – but one person at a time.  Someone prayed you into God’s presence, someone needs you to pray for them. 

Amen