Text: John 17:11b-19
Date: Easter VII + 5/17/15 (5/17/15 Palindrome!)
Today is the great Sunday of transition. It is the third day after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven and the eighth day before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. It is a day of questioning and wondering with the first disciples, “What are we to do now that Jesus is gone?” It is a day to mark the replacement of the apostle Judas (who we are to discover never really was an apostle but an apostate!) with the apostle Matthias. On this day we consider more deeply what was in Jesus’ heart and “high priestly prayer” on the night in which He was betrayed for the future of us, His disciples, in a world that will increasingly hate us.
This past Thursday, on the fortieth day after His resurrection, the disciples witnessed a truly mysterious thing. By now they have been getting used to (if anyone can ever) Jesus risen from the dead variously appearing and disappearing and appearing and disappearing again, at least the twelve times of which we are told. But this time He doesn’t just disappear but levitates up into the air, higher and higher until a cloud hides His feet from their sight. This, of course, is to signal both that He is not going to appear again until the Last Day and neither must He for, as He said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Now He is with us not just spiritually but especially sacramentally.
In the Creed we ever confess Jesus, the Son of God who became man, after His death and resurrection is now He who “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.” As of His ascension and session of exercising all power and authority in heaven and earth at the Father’s right hand, Satan is cast out of heaven. He is no longer allowed in the presence of God with his false accusations against us. As our Lord ascended to His throne the devil and his angels are not allowed to take part in the celebration of Christ’s coronation. Hence the eternal celebration of heaven with which the Church on earth continually participates “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” in the Divine Service and life we have been given.
But now, even with this reality before the eyes of faith we return to Jesus’ prayer and concern in today’s Gospel.
Here He addresses His prayer not only to the Father but, He says, “Holy Father.” Today we are to take note especially of the division between the utter holiness of God and the unholiness and sin of the world. In verse 14 He says, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world.” Then He prays, “keep them from the evil one.” Because you belong to the Holy Father through Christ, the world considers holy Christians to be traitors and renegades to itself. As the devil is not welcome any longer in heaven, in a similar way we are no longer welcome in the company of the worldly, the unbeliever.
When today we hear political candidates and other public voices blatantly and outwardly demanding that the Church must change her doctrine (especially for instance regarding the sin of homosexuality) we hear this hatred and warfare toward us proclaimed. Notice how this demand reveals that the world has no idea (and, we might add, some denominations infected by the wisdom of the world) that doctrine is something given by God from the outside and is not up to “the Church” to decide for herself and certainly not to change. “No matter!” they say. For it is God who is the real enemy after all!
Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name,” which is to say, keep them in Your Word and the content of the Word, the doctrine and revelation through the inspired, inerrant Words of the Bible. He prays for us to be guarded and kept in this faith precisely because it is and will always be possible for us to give up and let go of the Word, the doctrine, the revelation of God’s will. That’s the meaning of His prayer, “that they may be one.” For He doesn’t pray for the essential oneness of spirit and faith that is the gift and giving of God already in our Holy Baptism, but the outward oneness of the confession of the faith, that is, that we “con-fess,” keep saying the same thing together! Consider not only the demonic demands of the society around us but also the seemingly more minor doctrinal disagreements between Christians.
We may suppose that the best and most perfect alternative to dealing with the threat of the hateful world would be for God to just take us out of the world. But Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus was sent into the world to execute the Father’s will to save the world by the removal of sin and its accusations and wages. Now Jesus sends His disciples to carry that mission to completion by preaching and proclaiming the gospel, bringing the holiness of God to bear on and in and for the whole world.
On the Day of Pentecost Jesus poured out the power He promised of the Holy Spirit for this mission. So has the Holy Spirit supplied the Church with the power, as our Lord said, “to be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are not sent on this mission in order to transform the world into the Kingdom of Christ. That is impossible. But we are sent in order that many in the world may turn like us to become children of God and citizens of heaven, to join with us in the struggle, to hope with us for the final deliverance.
The ends of the earth have not yet been reached as is evidenced by the Lord’s promise that, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14). Even though the mission field has grown larger and even right in our own backyard, we continue to commit ourselves to this task, this joyous task. We serve not an absent Lord but Him who fills all things and “lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,” and with us! “one God, now and forever.”