Jesus prays within the life of God that we all be one – even our own community here at Mount Olive – and in that prayer we find hope in this time apart.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventh Sunday of Easter, year A
Texts: Acts 1:6-14; John 17:1-11
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Jesus prayed that “they” all be one, even as he and the Father are one.
Think of that. Jesus, the Incarnate God-with-us, God’s Word in our flesh, the eternal Son of God, prays within the life of the Trinity that we (if we’re part of Jesus’ “they”), that we be one even as God is One within that life of the Trinity.
But who is the “they” Jesus prays about? The Scriptures declare, as we learned last week, that all things, all people, will be drawn up into the life of God in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is God’s will, and it will be done.
But in this particular prayer, Jesus prays specifically for his followers, those who trust him as God’s Anointed. Here, Jesus prays within God’s life for all Christians to be one, a important and needed prayer.
But in this time we’re apart, we could also take the “they” one step closer to home. Our community of Mount Olive is also dear to the heart of the Triune God, and in this prayer, the Son is also praying that we, the people of God who come together as Mount Olive, might be one, even as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One.
But how can we be one when we can’t even be together? That weighs heavily on my heart. In a hymn we love to sing, we pray: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days.” That is our deep need, right now.
There’s a joy in the community of believers we hear of today that is hard to see.
In these days between Christ’s Ascension and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the believers gather together. The closest inner group – the remaining eleven, some of the women (Jesus’ mother is named, and we can be sure Mary Magdalene was there), and even Jesus’ brothers – this inner group of leaders gathered in the Upper Room. They devoted themselves to prayer together, Luke says.
Just that simple. They wanted to be together, so they were. They wanted to pray together, so they did.
We can’t even imagine that right now. We worship in our homes, and God blesses that, but we deeply long to be together. Our ministry with our neighbors is sharply limited. We do church business by meeting remotely, but the simplicity and ease of understanding that comes from meeting face to face is kept from us.
This is right and good. Opening ourselves to being a hot spot where the virus can rapidly spread and kill would be irresponsible and sinful. But the oneness of these believers, the ease with which they gather and live in community, is painful to see right now.
We’ve taken for granted how easily we were able to find each other in community.
Around 225 of us gather together on any normal Sunday. There are people you see every week in the pews you always sit in, your regular neighbors. You come, knowing you will likely see them. There are others you see in the greeting of Christ’s peace, others you know you will likely see at coffee hour. Think of how many of this community you might see on any given normal Sunday. And we used to need to do nothing for this except get dressed on a Sunday morning and come to church.
What those in our community who are homebound already knew, we all know now. To come to church whenever you want is an astonishing grace. It means sharing life with whoever is there, whether for worship or community meal or meetings or Bible study or shared ministry. You don’t have to look at a directory and decide who you’ll meet. It just happens. Until you can’t come.
Now our challenge is to learn how to be one, together, while we are apart. When it’s not easy. “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days.”
The wisdom and courage we need from God is to be intentional and creative in how we can stay together while apart.
Since you can’t just see people randomly, you’ll need to think. Who are your pew neighbors? Have you spoken recently? Whom do you see in the hallway on the way to coffee that you love to catch up with? Could you send them a note? I rejoice to hear of those in the congregation who are calling and writing to each other, just to stay connected. We all need to find that joyful intentionality.
There are other creative things you can do. A group of members who live near each other shared in a recent Olive Branch that they have a virtual dinner regularly. They all eat a shared meal, but all in their own homes, while on a video call. Are there Mount Olive neighbors near you that would want to do this? Are there other “virtual groups” you can start? Some are doing remote cocktail parties or coffee times.
Your leaders at Mount Olive are working on this, too. We already have a group of intentional callers, and could always use more. Now we’re dreaming of other ways we can maintain our community as these months apart stretch on. Perhaps a virtual coffee hour at a certain time on Sunday mornings, or helping organize remote neighborhood gatherings. I’m hoping to get another Bible study written so we can see each other remotely and listen to God’s Word together. There are many things we can do.
We pray, “grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days,” because our lives depend on this community.
We meet and know the Triune God when we are with each other. And to know God is eternal life, Jesus prays today.
Eternal life – something we for centuries have reduced to only life after death – also means knowing the Triune God who comes to us in Christ in this life! Since God is embodied in us, when we’re together as a community, we know God better. We find eternal, abundant life. You and I see the face of God in each other, know the hands and voice of God from each other. This community of faith is a sure sign of God in our lives.
It’s vital that we creatively and intentionally work together to maintain our community in this time apart, lest we lose the abundant life of knowing God now, in each other, that is one of God’s greatest gifts.
We can’t risk each other’s lives, or plan events that risk our safety. We can’t see each other face to face, or hug each other. So, we need to find out how we can be God for each other, in those creative, yet safe ways. “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days,” we pray.
And that’s the Good News for today, too. Because we’re not the only ones praying that.
Jesus prayed that “they” all be one, even as he and the Father are one.
The unity of all God’s children is on God’s heart and mind, and part of the Triune God’s inner prayer and love and discussion.
And so is the unity of those who are called together as Mount Olive in this time and place. Our life together matters to God as much as the life of all God’s children matters. The wideness in God’s mercy, as we also love to sing, has room for thousands of worlds such as this. And the love of God can even devote prayer time for our little band of siblings in Christ as we seek to remain one while apart.
And God promises to make this oneness happen, too, that’s what Jesus’ prayer really means. God’s inner prayer is our hope and our life, because the courage and wisdom we need to do this together will be granted, for the living of these days. This is most certainly true.
In the name of Jesus. Amen