Introduction and Call to Worship
Jesus leaves his disciples as he returns to his heavenly Father. We reflect today on what it means to live in the post-ascension world, shaped by the transforming power of the resurrection.
First Reading Acts 1:6-14
An account of the ascension of Jesus. We also hear the inclusive vision of Jesus for the whole world and the part to be played by the disciples once they receive the Holy Spirit.
Second Reading 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Following Christ is not easy; it brings suffering. Peter reminds us that God cares for all people and will bring them through their trials.
Gospel John 17:1-11
As he prepares to leave the disciples, Jesus shares his own love for his followers and connects this explicitly with God’s care for them.
“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”
Within our lifetime, each of us can expect to be bereaved in some way. No one reaches old age without having passed through the shock, sadness and even the physical pain of grief. It is part of the human story that we will lose those who are special to us – and companions along life’s road and inevitably we have to learn to rebuild life – to live, to love and go on.
And there is no set pattern for bereavement – no standard length for the mourning period as grief is experienced by each of us in different ways and cannot be contained, even when we try and do so. This week we have faced, as a nation, the most dreadful loss of children and young people who had enjoyed a concert in Manchester before the deadly bomb attack ended lives and changed so many more. There are no easy words to describe this evil act and we should, as people of faith, recognize the anger and fear of many. Adjusting to the sudden and indiscriminate loss of a loved one, especially a child, is just unimaginable. Of course, that horrifying shock and loss can also be weighed against the bravery, selflessness and courage of the many – the clear majority of people in Manchester on Monday night. There is so much to be thankful for. Our loving, open and inclusive society must stand firm to our shared values of respect and tolerance, and not let the absolute evil of the few triumph or change us. This is perhaps easier said than done, but nonetheless important.
Those who wanted Jesus to suffer did so because they too were misguided about God’s love and their own power. And the disciples didn’t just face the loss of Jesus once – that was bad enough with his agonizing crucifixion. No, they had to say goodbye a second time when Jesus left them to ascend into heaven. Like the disciples, we never really get over losing the people we love; perhaps we learn how to live with the gaps left behind. Before Jesus was betrayed, put on trial and nailed to a tree, he had tried to prepare the disciples for his impending suffering and death. But nonetheless they are left in fear for their own lives, and grief for their Lord. Then after Easter and the resurrection, Jesus is with them once more, although not the same as he was before – and he promises that when he leaves them again he will empower them with the Holy Spirit of truth. As Jesus prays in advance of his death, resurrection and ascension, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.” (John 17:11)
Now they need not be afraid. The Paraclete, the Spirit that brought the world into being, that overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Incarnation – that same spirit of truth will lead them, bless and empower them to be the Church of today and tomorrow. That same spirit we pray empowers us to be the inclusive, loving, tolerant people that Jesus is calling us to be – made in God’s image as the Lord’s body, the Church, on earth just as it is in heaven. So, we heard in the Gospel today that Jesus prays for his disciples – for us today: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Our Lord of life and love prays that God will protect the disciples – protect us. Jesus prays that our lives, as disciples in our own age and time, may be shaped by the truth of God’s Holy Word; that we, the people of God, may display such unity among ourselves that the world will be shaken out of disbelief; and then offers the reassurance of heaven. Jesus prays that they, his disciples, may know the real and eternal truth that is God’s love for them. Jesus calls us to be one, in love. He calls all his people, all people of faith, to be one, just as He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. And in this prayer we can find real hope for the future, even in the face of evil acts like the Manchester bombing this week. We can have hope in the promise of our Lord to send upon us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to equip us for his work of service and the promise that in times of trial – and we all have them, and times when we feel so vulnerable and weak, defenceless or bereft – God’s love is there for us, poured out for us.
This prayer of Jesus’ is also filled with challenge for the Church, the people of God, like you and I here in Thorpe today. We are called by Jesus to teach others about this truth – to be his disciples today. For the world needs to hear clearly the imperatives of the Gospel – the reassurance of the inclusive, uniting, faithful and orthodox promise that is God’s love and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps never more so than today, the world needs to hear how to overcome the brokenness that is experienced, the pain that so many live with, the emptiness that many struggle to overcome or simply accept.
Some theologians have written about what they term ‘the God of the gaps’ and our need to find comfort in the face of bereavement and absence. We can find God in those spaces, in those gaps of bereavement – but it is not easy. Yet the healing, compassionate love of God – manifest, alive and real in the world – reaches into the gaps in our lives and can, if we allow it, transform us and renew us. I’m not for one moment suggesting this is easy. Loss is the hardest life experience for many people. But Jesus promises us comfort and we can trust that God is in the gaps.
The Holy Spirit is the gift from God to the world, the power to change and transform which is breathed upon the disciples at Pentecost and given to us today – to the Church, to reach out to the gaps in people’s lives and effect a transformation in them. And you and I are called by Jesus to be his presence in the lives of all around us, allowing that Spirit to flow, that all may know the truth that will set them free: God’s love. Then, my friends, the whole earth may know, and our community here in Thorpe may proclaim, the eternal life that is promised by God, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus his Son, our Saviour. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Amen.
Each of us, at some point, has to deal with the loss of someone we love. We spend our lives readjusting to their absence. Jesus knew about loss too.
In the face of an outrage like the bombing in Manchester last Monday we are left with questions about suffering and loss as well as inclusivity and tolerance.
Jesus leaves his disciples twice. At the crucifixion, they are bereft; at the ascension, they are sad but unafraid because they have the promise of the Spirit of truth.
Jesus gives his followers a mission: to continue his work to the ends of the earth and he prays for the Church – his body on earth – for us, his disciples today.
As Christians, we reshape our lives each day in the light of this vision, living outwardly for the world – open to the gift of the Holy Spirit – which equips us in times of challenge.