This Sunday we are arriving at time when the disciples have seen their risen Christ, been amazed and overjoyed that he has conquered death. And then, last Thursday, he took them up to the mountain and told them, "OK, now I'm really outta here. But you'll be getting another boost from a close buddy really soon!" And off he went, ascending to sit at the right hand of the Father.
I don't know about you, but I'd probably want a stiff drink at this point!
He's gone. Again. And now they're left. Again. And the world isn't getting any kinder or gentler or easier.
Jesus was aware of what his friends would be enduring in his absence. In this morning's gospel, we find him in prayer. John's gospel gives us a glimpse into the Jesus who is preparing to be put to death and making a petition to God on behalf of the disciples:
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.--John 17: 11b-18
Imagine, for a moment, that this prayer is being cast out many thousand years into the future on our behalf as well. In many ways, those of us who take solace and gather strength in coming together at the Lord's table every Sunday in the Eucharist are facing our own trials once we walk out of the church. Like the disciples, we, too, enter into a world that doesn't necessarily believe in Christ, or--worse-- claims the mantle of Christ but betrays his ethic of Love to assert themselves as the moral superiors to everyone else. They say they believe in Christ, but actually saying and doing things that reflect Christ's love? Well, y'know...
Like the disciples, we may find ourselves feeling left behind and wondering how to carry on in the face of hostility, and indifference. Remember, to be Christian, to really live and abide in Christ, is to be counter to a culture of consumption and climbing the corporate ladder. It is a life that requires us to extend ourselves in Love to people with no expectation that we are going to gain anything in return. That's not the normal way of your every day human being!
When I think of this prayer of Jesus' in John's gospel, I am reminded of the petition we make in the daily office:
V: Give peace, O Lord, in all the world
R: For only in you can we live in safety
This seems to sum up what Jesus is saying. In God, we have peace and only in God's peace can we live in safety. We have choices in how we respond to the many challenges we face in our daily lives. If we choose to respond from a place of thinking that we must "solve" and "fix" everything in the world then we are circumventing the power of God who is the one who gives us the ultimate peace if we will relax and listen to the wisdom and give the control to a force greater than ourselves. It is through God and being in relationship with God that we have what we need to experience the sense of freedom and calm that comes with eternal life. And it is from this place of freedom and calm that we can respond to the world. If we so choose to live in that way.
And we have to be able to do this without the physical Christ looming over our shoulder, and being able to pull Jesus out of our pocket. Much in the same way the disciples must rely on knowing that they have been given all the tools they need to carry on without Christ being right there with them, speaking in parables and offering clarification. Our experience of Christ can come in a variety of ways, but its baseline for most of us is that moment or moments when we have intentionally allowed ourselves to be in contact with God. We must remember those words after Communion that, having been fed with the spiritual food of Christ's body and blood, we are now sent into the world in peace to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart, a way of being that comes from having shared in the Eucharist. We are given the opportunity now to take our counter cultural Love to meet the world as we experience it. The more willing we are to allow that Love that flows from each of us to come out, the more we become the agents of something radical that builds up and transforms the world as we know it. Are we ready for that challenge?