28 May 2017
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Revd Jonathan Cain
Acts 1: 6-14, John 17: 1-11
The reading that we heard from Acts this morning begins with the disciples questioning Jesus with an apocalyptic tone, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus’ answer does not avoid this long-term, future focus, but it does draw the disciples back to more immediate concerns in the here and now. He promises power from the Holy Spirit, and commissions them to be his witnesses, starting in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the earth. The description of Jesus ascension, his lifting up in a cloud suggests a certain paralysis and perplexity on the part of the disciples, as they stand gazing up towards heaven until prompted by two men in white robes. They are in an in-between or waiting time, which is to last the ten days between Ascension and Pentecost. This is the period in the Church calendar that we are in today … an in-between or waiting time.
Early on Friday evening I was sat outside enjoying the sunshine, when the sixth-form school leavers from Ilkley Grammar School descended on the Wheatley Pub at the end of our street – one stop on the traditional end of school pub crawl. As I listened with some nostalgia to their fun and frolics I thought about them being in an in-between time. No doubt they were dispatched by the head teacher with a rousing speech and sent out on the next phase of their lives. After the pub crawl they will all have some waiting to do – for exams, for exam results, for university places or employment confirmed, and for courses or jobs to start. Waiting … in between …
… and yet for at least two of the girls in that sixth from gathering, including our next door neighbour, the week could have been very different. You see, they were in Manchester on Monday evening at the Arena, watching Ariana Grande. They were in the toilets when the bomb went off, and they were caught up in the panic of the aftermath. I’m sure others will know people or know of people who were there too; this was very close to home, which understandably heightens our sense of horror and outrage. This is what Bishop Nick Baines blogged on Tuesday:
Today at least 22 families will wake up to a world in which their own children will have found their life ended young. The loss can only be indescribable. Life will never be the same again; the sense of injustice will not be comprehended.
The cowardice of the perpetrator is striking. Isn’t it brave and principled to target unwitting children and young people?
The emergency services, along with ordinary people who responded heroically, represent the best of a society that refuses to regard such events as ‘normal’. It is shocking, a crime and a sin beyond words.
The words that haunt me come from a poem written three thousand years ago:
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? (Psalm 13:2)
The depths of human perversion are evident. My prayer is that those whose lives have been torn apart by this atrocity will be drawn by a profound hope and not devastated by fear.
May the crucified and risen One shine light into this darkness and bring some peace.
… to which I’m sure we’ll all say, Amen.
We are living in post-Pentecost times. The Holy Spirit is experienced by believers and active in the world – just think about the response to those in need on Monday evening. But the horror of last week’s events reminds us that we are still living in an in-between time; we are waiting for the kingdom of God, which we glimpse in Jesus Christ to be fully realised.
The Gospel passage that we heard this morning is immediately preceded by Jesus’ prediction of the scattering of the disciples and their abandonment of him. Paralysis and perplexity, anger and disillusionment on Jesus part would have been understandable, but his response is loving encouragement. Despite the evidence he believes that, guided and emboldened by the Holy Spirit, the disciples will live up to his commission to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus’ belief in the disciples frees him up to pray for their unity and protection in the face of the violence that he knows is coming.
We are the inheritors of the disciples’ commission. Jesus prays for us and we are called to be his witnesses. While we yearn for God’s future reign of peace and justice, we are drawn to concerns in the here and now. In the face of the depths of human perversion we are called not to be paralysed in our perplexity or trapped by anger and disillusionment. We are called to unite in prayer and action.
This call, this commission from Jesus is the Scriptural basis for “Thy Kingdom Come,” the call to ten days of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost prayer initiated by our Archbishop’s Justin and John last year. “Thy Kingdom Come” has now become an international and ecumenical movement, one in which we are privileged to participate.
After a moment of silence together I’m going to lead us in two prayers: the first for those affected by violence; the second for us, that we may be faithful witnesses to Jesus. Let us pray …
God of compassion,
you hear the cries of all who are in trouble or distress; accept our prayers for those whose lives are affected by the bombing in Manchester and violence around the world;
We pray especially for those suddenly facing a future without a child, parent or loved one,
young ones who are in deep distress
those who are injured, traumatised or awaiting news strengthen them in their hour of need, grant them perseverance and courage to face the future and be to them a firm foundation on which to build their lives; this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We thank you that you have brought us to know and recognise you, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We thank you for those who shared the Gospel of Jesus with us.
We ask that in turn we may pass the Good News on to others.
Give us confidence to speak of you,
Sensitivity to walk with others on their journey,
And love to inspire us to reach out to others.
Most of all, give us a passion to see your Kingdom come,
That we might take risky steps
To be your witnesses to your world.
Through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.