Fr. Bill Carroll – The Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2021
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s Gospel comes from the so-called “high priestly prayer” of Jesus. Every year, we read part of it on the Sunday after Ascension Day. And we do that to remind ourselves that Jesus is praying for us, night and day, at the right hand of God. In the words of one of our hymns today, he is our “intercessor” and the “friend of sinners.”
The fact that Jesus prays for us should be comforting. Jesus knows the needs of our world better than we do. And, right now, he is praying powerfully for the people of India, for example, as they face catastrophic losses from Covid-19. He is praying for peace with justice in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank—as well as in our own homes and streets.
For many of us, he is praying for healing in body, mind, and spirit. He is praying for the people on our parish prayer list (and all our private prayer lists) as they face life-threatening illnesses, various kinds of grief, and other challenges. He is praying for each of us in this room. He is asking his Father for things we don’t even know we need. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is offering all of us up to God for healing and transformation. For, as the One who lived and died for us, he has brought our very flesh to the throne of grace, to intercede for us there.
Though we shouldn’t be afraid to be specific in our prayers, real prayer isn’t about outcomes. (Jesus has real prayer taken care of. We join him in his prayer.) Instead, prayer is all about giving our needs over to God. Real prayer is about bringing us into the presence of God, and asking God to help us as he alone knows how. It is about the prayer of Jesus, “thy will be done.” God knows far better than we do what we really need.
This morning, as we reread the high priestly prayer, I was struck by Jesus’s plea to his Father to protect us from evil. I was also struck by his prayer that we all might be one, just as he and the Father are one. Jesus is well aware of the forces that might divide us from each other. And so, he invokes God’s protection over us. As Christians, we are immersed in the world, with all its dangers and struggles. Too often, we are driven by the same disordered desires and warped values as the rest of the world. We are charmed by its cheap entertainment. We are manipulated by the same advertising and disinformation. And most of us suffer from the ways of this world.
The world doesn’t run on Christian principles. In the world’s eyes, people are expendable. We are measured. We are judged. We are compared by standards that have nothing to do with God’s love.
Jesus came to show us a new and better way. He calls us out of the world, but not for a separate existence. He knows we will live out our ministry in the world. He calls us out of the world, for the sake of the world.
Last Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ascension Day comes exactly forty days after the resurrection. Since Easter Day, Jesus has appeared to us alive in many ways and places. Now, he is returning into heaven before our very eyes.
The Ascension marks an important transition in the life of Jesus in our flesh. But it’s not that Jesus ever, ever leaves us. Just like he says in the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew, he is “with us always, even to the end of the age.” He is seated at the right hand of God, where he lives and reigns as our King, so that he might fill all things with his presence and his love.
Jesus is still right here with us, but the ways he is with us have changed. In the Book of Acts, an angel tells the amazed disciples to stop looking up into the sky for Jesus. Until Jesus returns, the angel tells them, their mission will take place in the world he lived and died for. They are to wait for the Spirit promised by the Father. And, when that Spirit falls, Jesus tells us, “You will be my witnesses…You will be my witnesses to all nations, he says, “beginning with Jerusalem.”
And so, Jesus is with us in the Spirit. He is with us, whenever “two or three are gathered” in his Name. He is with us wherever we hear his Word, share his sacraments, or pray together. He is with us in the whole creation. He is with us in our neighbors, especially in the least of these.
Jesus calls us to be immersed in the world as we find it, but with our hearts fixed on the new world his love is bringing about. We live in the earthly City, but as citizens of the New Jerusalem. (She is our mother.) That’s what it means to belong to Jesus: to live in this world but with God’s priorities. We are called to work, pray, and struggle for God’s Kingdom.
We are part of a family where every single human being is a member. We are all children of God. We are brothers and sisters to each other. We are called to work, to pray, and to struggle for a world, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed, where neighbors help neighbors and enemies are reconciled. The prophets promise that one day swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and we won’t study war any more. It’s not true yet, but one day it will be.
When we live as the children of God, it puts us in tension with the ways of the world. That tension can be attractive. It’s part of our evangelism. Some people are drawn to Jesus by the power of his love, which is the world’s deepest longing. But others see his love as a threat. And it is a threat to the ways we often live our lives.
If we come to Jesus, we will be changed. And so, we need Jesus to pray for us. We need to be protected and united in his Name, if we are to live as his witnesses. Because that means showing the world his new and better way of love. It means speaking the truth the world seldom wants to hear.
Jesus sees each and every person as a precious gift from God. That’s how he sees US. And so, he gives thanks to the Father for “those whom you gave me out of the world.” Because we belong to his Father, we also belong to him: “All mine are yours,” he says, “and yours are mine.” It’s what we mean when we pray, in one of our Eucharistic Prayers, that Jesus may “dwell in us, and we in him.”
In the strength of this loving union, we carry out the work of Jesus in the world. No matter what challenges we face, we share his mission and, ultimately, his victory.
For we belong to Jesus Christ. And his love has set us free.