Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A
Acts 1:6-14,1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11,John 17:1-11
According to the book of Acts, the Apostles have been seeing a lot of Jesus in the 40 days after his crucifixion and resurrection. On one of these days, the apostles are speaking with the risen Christ. They seem to be unsettled by their lack of knowledge of future events. They want to know when the kingdom of Israel will be restored. This type of question isn’t new. They often want to know more than they can humanly know. And again Jesus is not going to give into their desires. He promises that they will receive what they need. They will have power when the Holy Spirit comes and they will be his witnesses throughout the ends of the earth. At this point, Jesus ascends into the heavens without commotion or discussion. It almost seems that he simply floats up into the air as if someone intentionally releases a helium balloon. The balloon simply slips out of their fingers as they watch, and watch, as it gets further and further away. I imagine that they are in an almost trance-like state watching him ascend, which is only broken when two other men suddenly speak. This amazing act didn’t seem to be a topic of discussion or arguments as so many other things have been. The apostles are unusually quiet. They go to the upper room to pray and wait for the Spirit. It says that the eleven apostles along with Mary and a few others “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”
When the Apostles started out they want to know when the kingdom of Israel would be restored. When would the Hebrew people have power over the Roman authority? When would life be like it was in the good old days? Through the Gospels, we know that these patriotic sentiments are not the kingdom that Christ promises. Christ says that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). He says that it is “in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21) and much of the time it also seems that it has not yet come. This is one of the mysteries of our faith. When we look for the kingdom of God we can see that it is all around us but we also realize that the kingdom has not come to fruition. Through our hand and through the Holy Spirit we bring the kingdom closer and closer.
What is this kingdom like? How is it organized or lead? Is it social, spiritual, political? What is it like? If we look at Christ’s example, we know that the kingdom will not be organized on power, privilege, or wealth. I’d imagine that the kingdom will be based on love, compassion, and justice. We don’t know of a place such as this. We dream of utopias. Some have tried to develop them over the years but even the most egalitarian societies do not claim they have found utopia.(1)
We see radical differences in people. There are radical religious factions that commit terrible crimes. We are all too aware of terrorism that associates with Islam. But there are Buddhist’s groups connected with violence in parts of Asia. There are Christian groups in countries of Africa and in parts of India that, destroy mosques, force religious conversion, and cause terrible acts of violence. Our country is divided by radical politics in which people seem to have such opposing views even though, in their hearts, they want to see the same thing, a better country.
In today’s Gospel Jesus prayed and throughout the New Testament Jesus prays. I find this fascinating. Jesus is one person of the Trinity. He is an intimate part of the three in one. God knows him. He knows God, and the Spirit seems to surround them, yet he still prays. Jesus has been sent by the Father, Jesus is sending the Spirit. He is going back to the Father and they know each other, and he prays. Prayer is important for Jesus in his relationship with God and with the disciples. I don’t think Jesus prays simply to give us an example. He prays because it is vitally important to his relationships; his relationship to God and to the disciples.
Throughout the Gospels, we witness the Disciples traveling with Jesus. They don’t know about his prayers and they seem confused. They ask, teach us how to pray. And Jesus gives them the Lord’s Prayer. At other times the Disciples seem impatient with Jesus’ praying. They find him off by himself and they tell him that there are people waiting for you. But he finishes his prayers and says we are leaving and going elsewhere. By the time we get to today’s story in Acts, the disciples are fervently praying and they no longer seem to be anxious about what is happening. Increased faith is just one transformation we see in the disciples as they went from not knowing how to pray, being impatient with prayer, and now praying fervently on their own. If you want more faith, if you want to see changes in your life, if you want the closest relationships with God and the others in your life, it seems that routine prayer is the model we should follow.
In the prayer Jesus says today, he speaks of his unity with God. He speaks of the unity we have with Christ through belief and the words that we share. Christ even speaks of the unity we have with God through him. We are God’s people and God gave us to Christ and we now intermingle in this shared love and faith. Jesus gives all kinds of thanksgivings for us and the Father but at the end, Christ asks a few things of God on our behalf. He asks that we follow him, that God will protect us, and that we may be one. I think we must have revealed to Christ that we are able to be united with him and with the Father, but we have not demonstrated that we can be united with each other.
Power and authority seem to be a driving force in our world. This is nothing new. I wonder if the fights over religion are really about concern for the other person’s faith or salvation. And I wonder if our fights over politics are not truly about what is best for this country but over which party should be in control.
God is here, revealed through Christ, and it is a life of unity that we are to be striving for. It is about slowing down and taking time to pray. Realizing that the rat race and dog eat dog world that we have become accustomed to, is not the way of God. It does not bring unity to the people.
I recently watched the movie War Room. Like most Christian genera movies, it was a bit sappy, overly simplistic, and unrealistic. On the positive side, the movie does a fair job showing that prayer is work and that we can easily get distracted, especially when we start out. But unlike the movie, prayer is not a panacea for all our ills. Our prayers will not always be answered and bad things will still happen. To distill the message of this movie into just a few words, I’d say it is that prayer will change your life. And this is the truth that we see in the Bible and it is the truth that we find in those who do pray a lot. Pray not because Jesus prayed, Pray because you want to strengthen your relationships.