The Rev’d Matthew David Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Easter VII, Year C
May 8, 2016
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Jason Ballard, an emerging leader in the environmental justice movement, once said this about deforestation: “If we could only figure out how to make trees emit WiFi signals, we would solve the problem of deforestation in no time. Too bad all they produce is oxygen.”
Often the tyranny of the urgent blinds us to the importance of taking the long view. What is urgent and what really matters in the end are not synonymous. But time takes a toll. And in the end, the simple onslaught of daily life can prove the hardest challenge.
The Genbaku Dome is a building in Hiroshima that was near ground zero of the atom bomb. Even though it was near ground zero, it was one of the few things left standing amid the utter devastation. Yet, while it withstood the ravaging power of the bomb, the sheer onward march of time took its toll on the building. Regular work is needed to kept the building preserved. The same building that withstood the momentary power of the atom bomb succumbs to the wear and tear of time.
So we see the power of the present moment and the power of the long haul. The struggle of the urgent demand and the struggle of living a faithful life decade after decade. In both, our Gospel reading has something tremendously powerful yet surprisingly simple to say.
The Gospel reading comes from a section that some scholars have called Jesus’s priestly prayer. There Jesus says that he is not only praying for the disciples in the story of John’s Gospel, he says he is praying for you. His comment raises above the page, transcends its original context. He specifically says that he is praying not only for the disciples in the story who believe in him, but for those people who will come to faith in subsequent generations as a result of the the apostolic witness to the Good News. That is to say, he is praying for you, Christ Church.
Pretty clear what Jesus did before his ascension. Miracles, preaching, ticking people off, upsetting the temple, dying, and so on. But after he ascended into heaven, what is he up to? If our Gospel is any indication, he is praying back then not just for Peter, Paul, and Mary, but right now for Frank, Susan, and Mario, for the person on your right, for the person on your left, and for you. We easily understand the idea of praying to Jesus for help, but how often do we stop to appreciate the idea that Jesus is also praying for us?
As you sit there waiting in the doctor’s office to hear the results of the test, Jesus is praying for you. As you hold the hand of a dying loved one, Jesus is praying. As you walk into a new job, scared and nervous, Jesus is praying. As you look into your bank account and wonder how it will all work out, Jesus is praying. As you rise each morning, Jesus is praying. As you lay your head down to sleep, Jesus is praying. As you think about giving up on a project, a dream, or something even more significant, Jesus is praying for you.
As Christ Church pivots to a new chapter, with lots of new opportunities and lots of real challenges, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and he is praying for us, like a heavenly priest. In the urgency of the person, Jesus is praying. In the long journey, Jesus is praying.
But not just Jesus. Paul tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. You know when you sit with your beloved and you share something meaningful, and they don’t even need to respond? They just groan with you. That’s what the Spirit is also doing: praying for you.
But Jesus is not just praying general platitudes. In the Gospel reading, Jesus prays that we all will be one. What Jesus wants for us is to be united. We are to be one just as Jesus is one with the Father. We are supposed to reflect Trinitarian life together. To be together, gathered around Jesus in the sacraments. Real togetherness comes not from standing facing each other, but from standing, or better kneeling, side by side facing Jesus. The call is to receive Jesus, together, to come to the altar and find God there waiting for us. To all be one with God as Jesus and the Father are one.
When we are gathered together around Jesus in the sacraments, unified and brought into the divine life of the Trinity, John’s Gospel says that then the world will know that God sent his Son Jesus. It is through the presentation of our sacramental life together that the world will come to know that God loves them. That is what Jesus is praying for you. That is what Jesus is praying for Christ Church.
So where is Jesus? He has ascended into heaven, what is doing up there?
Jesus said it would be better for us if he goes away. How does that work? Trees don’t emit a WiFi signal; they emit something substantially more important: oxygen. What is Jesus doing? Jesus is praying, but not just for his disciples. He is praying for you.