The readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter can be found here and the readings for the Feast of the Ascension (or Ascension Day) are here. And those mark only two of your options – in the U.S., it’s also Mother’s Day. Whether – and how – to observe this day in church is always up for debate, but it does add to the mix this week.
Although we’ll sing a few Ascension hymns, the main focus for me will be on Easter 7. This week’s gospel reading from John gives us another installment from Jesus’ farewell discourse, this time focusing on prayer. Before Jesus leaves with his disciples for Gethsemane, he prays with them one last time. This prayer concludes a long discourse – portions of which we’ve read over the last few weeks – in which Jesus draws on familiar metaphors (I am the good shepherd, I am the vine) to help his disciples understand WHO he is and what that means for him. And he’s instructed them in how he expects them to love in his absence, “Love one another as I have loved you; everyone will know if you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” Now Jesus prays for them, asking God to be with them, protect them, and keep them safe from the Evil One. Jesus also holds up those who will come to believe on account of his disciples’ testimony.“I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” (CEB)
Jesus’ prayer is looking toward a future that for the disciples is at the very least uncertain. As a prayer it provides at least two jumping off points for preaching: first to open a conversation on the nature of prayer itself, and second to explore this particular prayer. Here Jesus has moved from explanations, instructions, and exhortations to simply praying FOR the disicples, and for those who will come to believe because of the disicples. Ultimately Jesus’ prayer is a plea for all of humanity. It’s an encompassing, enfolding prayer, one that extends even to us. What does it mean for us, for the church today, for Jesus to ask God to protect us, to keep us safe, for us to be filled with God’s love? In a context where the future of the church as we know can feel uncertain, reminding our congregants that Jesus prayed for us, is praying for us, is holding us up in God’s care even now might be a powerful and reassuring message.
I am also intrigued Barbara Lundblad’s discussion of John’s gospel being full of God’s surprises. Perhpas this resonates with me because so often in the last few years I’ve found myself in places and situations I’d never imagined as my life and ministry unfold in unexpected ways. Lundblad writes, “Can we be open to God’s surprises? Could it be that the Spirit that moved over the waters in creation became a mothering presence in the Gospel of John?” Can the church be open to God’s surprises as we figure out how to be church in new contexts?
For those struggling with Mother’s Day, Lundblad also makes some nice connections with the holiday, this prayer and Trinity. Good stuff!
Whether you are ascending or praying with Jesus, or honoring moms, or all three, let us know where you’re heading; feel free to leave your questions and inspirations in the comments.
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