Looking up to heaven, Jesus prayed, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. 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. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
It is the last Sunday in the season of Easter, for 7 weeks have been moving through the great season of celebrating the resurrection. 50 days of rejoicing. Yet for the second year now, Easter has not felt like Easter. Paused have been the normal spring activities. Yard sales and graduations, flower planting at the church and congregational picnics. Drive around most neighbourhoods these days, and you might see friends and neighbours skirting public health orders by visiting on the city sidewalk just off of private property, or families having mother’s day visits in lawn chairs in city parks.
Certainly, celebration, feeling joy, living that Easter life hasn’t been front and centre this year. Just a few days ago we passed a grim milestone in Manitoba. 1000 deaths from COVID-19. A number that is hard to fathom for our province.
As we land on this 7th Sunday in Easter, and for 3 weeks now, we have been making the transition from being witnesses to the resurrection of Christ to becoming Easter people. From Jesus’ image of the vine and branches, to the reminder that God chose us and not the other way around, God has been making us ready to become new community of disciples.
Today, Jesus implores God the Father that his followers be protected and cared for, remembered and given a place. And even if the prayer is just as much for Jesus’ followers to hear as it is for God the Father’s ears, it maybe doesn’t exactly feel like God has been remembering us these days. In fact, it is pretty easy to wonder what exactly is going on in the world and to ask what God is doing with us?
The disciples know this feeling we are having. They know exactly what it is like to be living in a world fraught with danger. Jesus is praying this prayer in the garden of gethsemane, just moments before he is about to be arrested. The disciples know that Jesus is in trouble with the crowds, religious authorities and police. They also know that he has been talking about dying lately.
As Jesus prays to the father, he prays out of concern for his friends. While it sounds like he wants his father to care for them, to make sure they are okay, his prayer is rooted in the knowledge of what they are about endure. The hardest 3 days of his life and theirs is about occur, Judas and the soldiers are already on the way to arrest him.
Yet, here we are on the 7th week of Easter, and we know the story. We know what is going to happen, we know the path that Jesus will walk, we know what the disciples will do and how they will indeed fall apart in the midst of it all. We know that Peter will deny Jesus, we know that the women will run away from the empty tomb afraid, that the disciples will not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, that Thomas will not believe, that Peter again will not be able to express out loud his love for Jesus.
And yet, this group of disciples that falls apart and fails at every turn in a scary world is the group of people that is entrusted with the message, they are made to be the church, the first community, the first group of believers that will embody, that will become the very Body of Christ still in the world, even after the Ascension.
So Jesus prays for them knowing both what they will endure but also who and what they will become.
Still, here were are disciples who know the story and yet are still in danger of falling apart. Our gatherings have not been what are are used to or what we need them to be for over a year, and though it feels like there might be an end in sight, we don’t know exactly when.
And we also know that the group, the community we were 14 months ago is not the community we are not, and nor will it be the community who finally gathers back together again. Some of us will not and cannot return, And some of us will be new and unknown. And all of us will be made different by this experience.
And then of course, all the problems we faced before the pandemic of perceived decline, transition to the 21st century along with a healthy dose of uncertainty will still be there for us to contend with, and now without knowing yet what the effects of the pandemic will have on us.
As much as the disciples with Jesus in the garden need to hear Jesus pray on their behalf, we also need to hear again Jesus’ intercession on behalf, we need to hear that reminder that Jesus has walked with us this far and that we will not be abandoned in the chaotic events and swirling winds of change to come.
50 days after Easter Sunday after Pentecost, the story which we will hear next week when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples in tongues of fire, the disciples remained small scared group of followers.
And yet, yet, somehow in the mist of all that they experienced, they were changed. They were changed by the Christ who forgave their fear and denial, the Christ who met them at the empty tomb and said their name, the Christ who revealed himself in the breaking of the bread, the Christ who reached out his hands to a doubting disciple, Jesus who still made these flailing, uncertain, fearful disciples the ones entrusted to be the church, to be his body and to proclaim the good news.
This prayer that Jesus prays to the Father just before his arrest, does not turn out the way the disciples or we might expect. Things were still dangerous and scary and difficult.
Yet, that small band of followers still managed to become the early church community, the followers of Jesus that spread across the Roman Empire, and then eventually across the world. And though the church has not been perfect and made many mistakes, though the world has still been a dangerous and scary place at times, the Gospel promise is still proclaimed. The body of Christ has continued to gather and continued to tell Christ’s story, to tell God’s story, to tell of God’s story become our story. And generations have heard it.
And this Easter community of fearful failing disciples has become a global community of Jesus’ followers enduring for 2000 years.
Now, as we consider again what it means to be followers of Jesus, as we hope for good news and promise that God is caring for us in the midst of trying times… we know that God has been transforming God’s people, God has been transforming us since the beginning. From the manger to the cross, from the empty tomb to tongues of fire, from the ACTS of the Apostles to the Early church councils to the reformation to now. God has been making us ready to be God’s easter community.
In the small acts of mercy and new life of this past year, in neighbours looking out for each, in phone calls, text messages and emails sent to friends on our minds, in gifts left on doorsteps, drive-by birthdays for young and old, mother’s day park visits, in staying home and visiting family over zoom instead of gathering for the holidays, in booking vaccine appointments and encouraging our hesitant family members to do the same. In a myriad of unexpected ways God has been opening us to our neighbours, God has been placing signs of new life in our midsts, God has been making us Easter people, even as feel like a scared failing group of disciples.
So even in in the midst of an Easter that has not felt like Easter for the second year, even when the world feels fraught with danger all around, with a pandemic that seems to want to push us to crumble as a community, God is Christ is walking with us, Jesus is interceding on our behalf, and God the Father has been transforming us, in the most unexpected of ways.
Like those first disciples who seemed the unlikeliest group to be entrusted with the mission of God’s Church, God is calling us into the same mission. God is turning us, even separated and apart, into the bearers of the good news for the sake the world, the ones called to proclaim in whatever way we can to the risen the christ.
This Easter season we are again transformed into Easter people, even when it seems hard to believe. God is preparing us to be a new people, a new community of faith, to be the Body of Christ for the sake world.