Seventh Sunday of Easter
God of Presence, who made heaven and earth, dwells within us
- Acts 1:6-14
- 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
- John 17:1-11
Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
We rarely exchange this greeting beyond Easter Sunday or the Easter season, but we do well to remember that every Sunday is a little Easter and worthy of proclaiming that Christ is risen. Since the day God raised Jesus from the dead, “Christ is risen” is the central claim we make as Christians. The resurrection of Jesus has changed everything. We live it and proclaim it even if we don’t fully understand it.
There is an old story from mystical rabbis known as Hasidim (2 nd century BCE or 16 th century Poland). A founder of the Hasidim was known as the Baal Shem. In good rabbinic tradition the Hasidim were exceptional storytellers. Like Jesus, they knew that stories generate life. Storytelling constitutes a life-giving act in itself.
A rabbi, whose grandfather had been a disciple of the Baal Shem, was asked to tell a story. “A story,” he said, “must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself.” And he told [this story]: “My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher [the Baal Shem]. And he [told] how the Holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather, [though he was lame], rose as he spoke, and was so swept away by his story that he began to hop and dance to show how the master [Baal Shem] had done it. From that hour on he was cured of his lameness” (Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim , xvii).
This morning I feel a little like that grandfather who hopped and danced the story that cured his lame leg. Although I am not exactly hopping and dancing nor am I a grandfather, I am grateful to be walking and driving again. I have lived the transition from Lent to Eastertide with the slow healing of my foot.
More to the point for this culminating Sunday of Easter, it is an Easter story in a nutshell.
We tell the Easter story not because we understand the resurrection but because telling it constitutes living truth of the story. Christ is risen. Resurrection happens. New life is taking place among us. Our task is to recognize the presence of the risen Jesus and become people who walk in the resurrection, as early Anabaptists used to talk about it.
Christ is risen and goes before us! Our life together is in and with the Risen Christ. It has already happened and it happens today in Christ and in us.
Knowing that Christ is risen, let us enter into God’s Story in the early church in Acts and First Peter, and in Jesus in John’s Gospel. We begin with Luke-Acts and Jesus leaving earth and ascending into heaven.
Acts 1:6-14 — Jesus’ Ascension
In the great two volume story of Luke and Acts, the Gospel writer overlaps the end of volume one and the beginning of volume two. Luke ends the Gospel and Jesus’ life on earth by telling us that:
Then Jesus led the disciples out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried into heaven. And the disciples worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God” (24:50-53).
Luke begins volume 2, the Acts of the Apostles, by re-telling the story of Jesus’ ascension. It begins with a typical question the disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Remember the disciples had been in despair when Jesus was crucified. When they finally realized Jesus had been raised from the dead they were overjoyed and filled with hope.
With that in mind, one commentator paraphrases the disciples question as saying to Jesus, “Great, you’re not dead. Now are we going to kick some Roman butt and take our rightful place as kings?” (Laurel Dykstra, “Living the Word, Sojourners , May 2008, p. 48.)
That is not the way of Jesus as the disciples still struggle to learn. Instead Jesus told the disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons [for fulfilling God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven] which God alone has authority to determine.”
But Jesus also doesn’t stop there or let them on their own. God will pour out the power of the Holy Spirit upon us so we will be God’s kingdom building witnesses to the incarnate, crucified, and risen Christ beginning here at home and reaching around the world.
Then Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples are again caught between despair and hope and look longingly into the skies where Jesus disappeared. Again two white-robed figures appear and challenge them stop gazing upward and start living outward. This time, instead of despairing at loosing Jesus, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer to find their place as witnesses to the risen Christ in the world.
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
The First Letter of Peter gives us a reality check on being in the world. Peter warns that “like a roaring lion…the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour” (5:8).
Evil and suffering seem to prevail on earth. Peter tells us to resist evil and be steadfast in faith, be alert, be disciplined, and give our anxiety to God who cares for us.
Peter promises that whatever you face in this life “the God of all grace….will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To God be the Glory forever and ever. Amen” (5:10-11).
John 17:1-11 – That they may be one
This brings us to Jesus in John’s Gospel, chapter 17. Let’s back up a bit and set the context of John’s Gospel leading up to chapter 17. The first twelve chapters of John’s Gospel tell the stories of Jesus’ life with the disciples. Then we come to this very significant central section of the Gospel in chapters 13-17, in three steps.
First Jesus celebrates a farewell meal and ritual of washing the disciples’ feet in Chapter 13. He closes that foot-washing ritual with a farewell commandment:
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples… (13:34-35).
Second, Jesus gives the disciples a farewell teaching discourse in chapters 14-16.
Third, Jesus looks up to heaven and prays a farewell prayer to God on behalf of his disciples in chapter 17.
Jesus’ hour has come. Immediately following Jesus’ farewell ritual, teaching, and prayer, he faces his passion – his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial.
All these farewell acts are how Jesus is preparing his disciples for his ‘hour that has come’ and for their hour to come when they are without his physical presence.
Jesus’ final preparation for himself and for them is in this intimate prayer with God as Father. Jesus speaks directly to God on their behalf.
The disciples are in the privileged position of being hearers of Jesus’ prayer to God. The community of disciples John is writing to and all disciples since then are in the privileged position of being overhearers of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer. We who overhear Jesus’ prayer are equally those for whom Jesus is praying.
Listen as disciples overhearing Jesus praying for us now even as the first disciples heard Jesus pray this prayer.
Read John 17:1-11 (12-25)
While Jesus’ prayer in John’s Gospel takes us back to just before his passion, in his prayer we know that we are in God’s hands and that Jesus still prays and acts on our behalf and that God’s Spirit is present and active in us and in the world.
Wes’ commentary on John, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship, gives a powerful summary of the purpose of Jesus prayer for disciples of all time:
Jesus no longer acts “in the world” but only here among his disciples. The upcoming Passion will be the ultimate confrontation with the world, but Jesus will remain throughout it apart from the world that finally appears to succeed in destroying him….But for the disciples who are in the world, Jesus expresses the petition….”Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus’ purpose is the unity of the disciples. Those who live in commitment to that reality are one in that faith [with Jesus] (364).
We come to this culmination of the Easter Sundays hearing this prayer of Jesus, knowing that in Christ we are already one even while knowing that we live in a world of disunity.
We who are being prayed into love and unity by Jesus, declare again with confidence:
Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
Amen! Come Lord Jesus!