1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who prays for us. Amen
Here’s the scene:
you know you’re going to die soon.
What do you say to the loved ones you’re leaving behind?
What do you want them to know? To feel?
To carry with them the rest of their lives?
And how do you tell them this once you’ve got it all figured out?
Or you’re on the other end of the good bye,
wondering how you will move forward in life,
who you will be in the absence of your loved one,
wondering what you are supposed to do without them.
This is the scene we find in our gospel for today,
Jesus knows he’s going to die soon
and this is his farewell address to the disciples,
it reveals what is most important to him,
what he wants the disciples to carry with them
even as he answers their as yet unspoken questions
of identity and purpose.
Jesus starts by saying once and for all
the purpose of his life,
what he wants the disciples to remember
- that God sent him, his son-
to bring eternal life to all-
that is why Jesus has been among them,
and in the event that they are unclear on it
he defines eternal life:
being in relationship with the true God
who is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ purpose has been fulfilled
in his relationships with the disciples,
relationships where he has communicated who God is,
through his presence among them
and this has not been a general presence
but a personal intimate presence,
one built on relationships,
it is a presence that participated in the whole range
of the human experience from life to death,
a presence who felt the pain of the mourning
and raised the dead,
a presence who felt the hunger of the crowds
and provided bread and hope,
a presence who became the life of the party
when the wine ran out,
who got to know the people he encountered
and who loved them faults and all,
Peter the blockhead,
Thomas the questioner,
Martha the overworker
and yes even Judas the betrayer,
Jesus loved them all
and saw them as a gift from God,
was honored by the relationships,
the people that God had placed in his care
and in the end,
in his farewell address
he gives thanks to God for them
And it is in this thanksgiving
for the gift of his disciples
that Jesus begins to lay the foundation
for the disciples’ future life,
a life without his physical presence
yet where they are still in relationship with God
because they are God’s,
he paints the picture a future
where they will be the presence of Christ in the world,
where their purpose will be to live the eternal life
given them by Jesus
and to share that eternal life with others
by being the presence of Jesus in the world,
in the same way Jesus shared it with them,
by building personal relationships
that reveal God as one who is intimately concerned
with the lives of God’s children.
Jesus knows that this will not be an easy identity and purpose to live out,
especially in the sadness and confusion,
the joy and wonder
at his death and resurrection
so he closes his prayer for the disciples
with a prayer for protection and unity.
He closes his prayer,
that’s how Jesus has chosen to give his parting message to the disciples,
through a prayer for them that they overhear.
It is a beautiful and intimate thing to be prayed for
and it is reflective of the intimacy Jesus has with both God and his disciples,
it also creates new life in the people who pray and hear the prayer.
Prayer is not just communication with God,
a checklist of requested items
but a time of relationship building
where hopes and dream are exchanged
and those involved are empowered to live into the new life
envisioned in the prayer.
Even as Jesus says good bye to his disciples
he creates new life for them,
just as he creates new life for us
for we are overhearers of the prayer too,
we are disciples,
Jesus prays for us
knowing what we need in his seeming absence.
Today we mark the ascension of Jesus to heaven
as we heard in our reading from Acts,
and we remember the promise that Jesus will return,
it has been many generations of waiting
for Jesus to return
and though Jesus has left us with our identity and purpose,
comes to us in the bread and wine at the table
and is present in the spirit
sometimes we can’t help but feel his physical absence,
and we wonder why,
just as when we lose a loved one,
we still miss them
and wonder what the future will bring
even as we live out that future.
These are the moments when we go back to the farewell,
we take time to remember and be renewed
in the memories of our loved ones who have gone before us,
who we are because of them
and our purpose in life after them,
and we are renewed in our convictions.
In the same way
we take time to remember Jesus,
to hear his prayer for us,
to be renewed in our identity as children of God
and Christ’s presence in the world
and our purpose of living and sharing the eternal life
of relationship with God
that has been given to us.
It has been many generations
since the first disciples
witnessed Jesus’ ascension to heaven
and yet here we are,
children of God,
living the gift of eternal life in relationship with the God
who Jesus revealed to us by the community of disciples,
Jesus’ presence on earth.
We remember with thanksgiving
those who passed the faith along to us
and the prayer that Jesus prays for us,
and so renewed in our identity as beloved children of God
and our purpose of sharing that relationship with others
we live into our eternal life in Christ. Amen