Sunday after Ascension

June 2nd 2019

John 17:20-26

The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating , redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

The theme of our nation’s Reconciliation week this year is Grounded in Truth: Walk Together with Courage.

Reconciliation Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Karen Mundine, said that trust and truth is the basis for all strong, equitable relationships.

“Reconciliation is ultimately about relationships and like all effective relationships the one between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians must be grounded in truth,” she said. “There can be no trust without an honest, open conversation about our history.”

 “Our nation’s past is reflected in the present, and the legacy of past traumas will continue to play out in our future unless we heal historical wounds,” Karen Mundine continued.[1]

As we reflect on this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to St John, as we witness Jesus in a time of prayer, perhaps we might glimpse something of the ground in which such truth telling might take place. Jesus’ life was deeply woven with courage and truth.

Last Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. The Christian Story, the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and death and resurrection, is a story of arrivals and departures, each arrival, each departure, mysterious and holy. Jesus is born, born in a stable in Bethlehem, the Word made Flesh, the human child of Mary whose courage, with that of her husband Joseph, enabled God to send God’s Son to the world. Visited by angels and shepherds and wise men guided by a star, this baby enfolded in human love and images of God, enters a world of threat, a threat that would eventually overcome him. Violence seemed to overcome the love Jesus brought to the world in his death on a cross. Jesus’ departure in death by crucifixion was devastating to those who had loved him from his birth and those who had become his followers, those men and women who heard him say “Follow me”. 

This departure was not final; death was not final in Jesus. The courage and relentless living inthe truth that shone is Jesus was honoured by God. Three days after his death, in the resurrection that we have celebrated over the last six weeks of Easter, Jesus arrived, was found mysteriously and physically present in different ways to different disciples, always bringing healing and peace and forgiveness. Jesus was powerfully present, bidding those disciples to go out to the world, to tell the world that he is risen, to baptise, as we will this morning, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And then Jesus departed in a new way. The writer of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles writes about it. Jesus was speaking with his disciples about his leaving and about the sending of the Holy Spirit:

So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “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.” (Acts1: 6-11))

And so he has departed again. That close risen presence that we saw Mary Magdalene at the tomb encounter when he spoke her name, “Mary”, is gone. But didn’t he tell her it would be so? “Do not cling onto me,” he had said to her. What mattered to him was that she go and tell the others that he was living, he was alive, that he has arrived again.

What those first disciples knew as they watched him being lifted up in what we call Jesus’ Ascension, we know something of this reality, don’t we? We know something of God who is sometimes arriving and sometimes departing, sometimes present and yet often absent. What those first disciples were called to, as they lived without him living alongside them, we know too. The life of faith. The life of belief in the one who has blessed our lives with life and love, with courage and truth. We cannot quite see God, we cannot capture God in a theory or a method, yet we may glimpse God in word and music, in our gathered presence as the Body of Christ, in the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. Jesus has gone from the disciples again, departed again, promising that his spirit will come to help them witness to what he means to them.

As they puzzled, these disciples, watching him go, did they remember? Did they remember the meal he had with them before the soldiers came? When he gathered with his disciples before his passion and death, Jesus tried to help his disciples understand. And so, also, he tries to help us understand, to have an image really of what life in God is like.

As we listen, this morning, to the reading from the 17th Chapter of the Gospel according to St John, we find ourselves witnesses to a conversation, a conversation between Jesus and God, a time of prayer. The scene is the Last Supper. Jesus has gathered with his disciples, he has washed their feet and he has spoken with for a long time about what lies ahead for him and for them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he has said and then he has spoken about their closeness to him and to God. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” he has said to the ones who he has loved and journeyed with during his time of bringing healing and freedom and truth to those they have encountered.

What lies ahead for Jesus is a place of violence and lies and death. Chapter 18 of John’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ trial and passion. But before he goes there Jesus prays to the God he knows so intimately as Father and the disciples, then, and we disciples, now, are witnesses to that prayer. Jesus’ prayer is not so much a series of requests of God, so much as a revelation into Jesus’ life in God and our life there, too.

Jesus prayed to God about his disciples,

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

 I ask on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word … that is us … and those who might know about God through us. Jesus asks about us. That we may be one and that we may dwell in God in Christ.

One writer reflects on the words of Jesus’ prayer in this way:

“Christ is the doorway into the reality of the Father. The reality of the Father is the flow of life and love into his children. …The first friends gather other people into themselves, and through themselves into Jesus, and through Jesus into the Father. [This] results in a unity, a oneness that witnesses to the truth that Jesus is the communication of God to a fractured world. The God-grounded oneness of Jesus’ friends among themselves both calls attention to the pervasive condition of human fragmentation and invites it into healing.”[2]

This morning we will baptise Harrison and Ava into the life of faith. We know that this life is not easy, not always clear. God sometimes arrives and seems so close to us – perhaps through the singing of the choir, or the compassion of a friend, through the wonder of birds flying over a windswept sea. And yet, just as often and perhaps more often God seems to be engaged in more of a departure, to be more absent than present, when our world is shattered by sickness or bereavement or worry, or perhaps just when the ordinariness of things seems to weigh heavy on us, or puzzle us. Or, as in the land that is our home, when we know that the legacy of past traumas will continue to play out in our future unless healing comes to the wounds left by the events of history.

As we pray for the healing of these wounds this Reconciliation Week, as we hope for honest, open and courageous conversations about our history, we might remember, as perhaps the disciples remembered when they watched Jesus ascend into heaven, his words at that supper and his prayer. That we might know that we are held in God, one with Christ in God, and that we might go out as he bid us and tell the world. That the reality of God is “the flow of life and love into his children” and that we are born to thrive in that love and be witnesses to that love so all the world might know.


[2] John Shea The Relentless Widow p147.