Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:
Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist
On May 16, something went wrong in our recording of the 6 PM Community Eucharist. Please join us next week.
The written version of the sermon is here:
Most of you know that on Thursdays, we send a weekly newsletter from the church by email. If you read last week’s, then you probably saw that I explained in the opening article how the Vestry has approved our tip-toeing forward out of the pandemic. We are adding a final congregational hymn at 11 AM beginning next Sunday, and in June, we’ll be having a simple kind of coffee hour time outside, offering a time to catch up with one another. Just after we sent that email, the Center for Disease Control issued its new guidelines around mask-wearing outside and inside.
Though a part of me felt like my and the vestry’s thoughtful, careful discernment was all just wiped away by the CDC, another part of me was also gleeful at the idea of not having to wear a mask all the time. Even though we’ll keep wearing masks in the church until the Bishop of New York says we can take them off, the sort of whiplash effect of the day was yet another once of those experiences for me that we’ve all had this year. We feel conflicting emotions at the same time. While we weren’t so crazy about the recent past, confronted with an uncertain future, we hang on to what we can. Most of us don’t like change and don’t really like ambiguity. We don’t like being in-between.
This Sunday is an in-between kind of Sunday—between the Ascension of Jesus Christ, which was celebrated last Thursday, and the Day of Pentecost, which comes next Sunday. The Book of Acts describes the Ascension, coming 40 days after Easter Sunday. Jesus finishes talking with his disciples, a cloud surrounds him, and Jesus disappears in the cloud. When he had vanished, two men in white robes stood there and said to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
And so, we’re a little like those disciples, standing between the Ascension and the full gift of Christ’s Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Jesus has ascended (whatever that might mean) and the Holy Spirit is about to burst on the scene with the blast of Pentecost, (whatever that means.) Given the odd nature of this day, we might well understand the disciples’ posture, staying still, gazing into heaven, wondering what it all means.
In the reading from Acts, the disciples are just beginning to re-organize themselves after the betrayal of Jesus by one of their own—Judas—and the death and resurrection of Jesus. In that Jesus appeared among them for some time after the resurrection, and then seemed to ascend to the Father, the disciples have somehow themselves been brought to new life and are ready to move out in God’s will. They choose Matthias and they move out in faith.
The disciples can go forward—just like we can move forward through any difficulty, any fear, any grief, any pain—because they remember the words of Jesus. They remember Jesus’s words, they repeat them, and through prayer and worship and celebrating the Sacred Meal, they feel Christ’s presence among them.
The Gospel for today comes from a portion of John’s Gospel in which Jesus is trying to prepare his friends for the life ahead, for life without him. Jesus knows that their faith will be tested. It will be hard to keep faith in his teachings when he is gone.
Bishop N.T. Wright, (Retired Bishop of Durham, England) suggests a contemporary way of reimagining Jesus’s words. Imagine a young mother, he says, who is about to leave her children in the care of her parents, the grandparents of the child. The mother makes a careful list, reminding the grandparents of the children’s favorite food, their sleeping habits, their play schedule, and all the other things that go into caring for the children.
One can imagine a mother in that situation giving detailed instructions as to how each child should be looked after, not because she didn’t trust her parents to look after them but because she did.” (John for Everyone, p. 94)
Jesus prays for his disciples and friends. He asks God to protect his friends and followers, and all “those who will believe through the word.” Jesus doesn’t ask God to take us out of the world—he knows that it is through people like us that the world can be changed—but he does ask God to protect us from evil, to keep an eye on us, to look out for us, to keep us close.
Jesus prays for us. This means everything. It means that there is a link between us and God, even when we might feel like we haven’t really done our part, or when we feel like we might have messed up that link. That Jesus prays for us means that when we have a tough decision to make, it means we don’t make it alone—he prays for us. It means that even as we try to figure out what it means to be a person of faith and integrity in relationships, at work, in social settings… Jesus prays for us, and is pulling for us to figure it out, and make our way through.
Jesus prays for us and it’s his love that carries the weight of the prayer. It’s his love for us that keeps that prayer in the presence of the Father. When we add our love, then there’s even more in the conversation. It’s through the asking, the answering, and the silences in-between, that prayer works.
Jesus prays for us, and with his spirit we can pray for each other and for ourselves. The prayer moves through a kind of frequency that is based on love– or even when it’s not quite love, but simply friendship, or concern, or regard—it serves as the medium through which prayer moves.
In the 80’s and 90’s studies were done on prayer. Often these were done where a person was not told they were being prayed for, or the person praying might have no relationship with the person being prayed for. Sometimes such prayer experiments were done using things other than people. The results, as you might expect, were inconclusive, at best. But some are doing newer studies, not so much trying to prove causation, but exploring the possibilities of prayer, of there being some connection between two people, and whether that connection can affect a person or both people, for good.
If we are like the disciples in the Book of Acts, standing and gazing into heaven, looking for Christ, we’ll probably be looking a long time. But if we look inward through prayer, if we seek to meet him prayerfully in the Sacraments, and if we prayerfully look in one another for the risen Christ, then the clouds may come and go, God is God, and God’s “the steadfast love endures for ever.”
When Jesus spoke the words in today’s Gospel, I think his heart was probably heavy, as he anticipated leaving the people he loved. But his heart was also full, as he gave thanks for his time among his friends and family. The humanity of Jesus shows us how we can be most loving. But the divinity of Jesus reminds us that God comes into us to make us holy—not only so that we might more completely recognize God, but also that we might gradually become more like God.
Thanks be to God that Christ prays for us and prays within us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.