Lest we forget, being followers of the risen one has never been without peril. Believers have been persecuted, killed, ridiculed, shunned, and critiqued from the beginning. We make a strange assertion – Jesus was raised from the dead! – in a world that mostly cannot believe such a preposterous thing.
This Sunday – the last Sunday before Pentecost – makes clear that holding the church together has always been a struggle requiring the help of the triune God. Jesus prays for the church in the name of the One who sent him, and the Spirit enters into even the choice of new leaders. The church exists because of God’s work in our midst.
Where is God at work in your midst at this time? What can you point to as a challenge or a change in your community that has been guided by the power greater than any human achievement?
Following the final discourse before his arrest, Jesus makes an extended and moving prayer to the Father regarding the disposition of the apostles. . . . Significant is Jesus’ understanding that those who have followed him belong to him and thus no longer belong to the world. Jesus asks three things: that [God make them] one … keep them from the evil one, and … consecrate them in the truth. – Mary Katharine Deeley
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
In many ways the Ascension is the necessary predecessor to Pentecost and the birthday of the church. With the ascension Jesus leaves matters squarely in our laps and sends us to wait on the power of the Spirit. Even after the resurrection, waiting is part of the plan. And if waiting weren’t enough, the way ahead still is unclear and requires faith to interpret and discern. Jesus leaves in order to make way for his body, the church, to take its needed place. – H. Gregory Waldrop
Jesus ascended in order to be everywhere present and available, nudging and comforting.
That Christ is praying for us, his church in our time, is certain because we live in dire need of the truth that sanctifies. The church in contemporary society is so weakened and indistinct from the culture about us that it practically fails to exist. As some witty Christian—I can’t remember who—said, “Our church, in leaning over to speak to the modern world, fell in.”
Christ prays for us, because he has called us out of the world and its penchant for lies into a community of troubling truth. This means that the church has always had troublers—people who take convictions seriously enough to bring them up when nobody wants them to.
. . . Troublers ask us to think about who we are and how we are different, and the reasons why we do what we do. The church has an opportunity to make a lot of money by investing its funds in profitable companies, and think of the great good it can do with the earnings. Yet, these companies are tied to practices and ways that are in conflict with the church’s own witness and values. Some are tied to defense industries and war. . . . Some have poor labor practices, using people to the point of slavery. . . .
Some of the church’s own practices are less than true. There are those willing to compromise the message for the sake of winning new members, market the church . . . and turn the church into another entertainment industry for the sake of fitting into the culture and being user friendly. Then comes the troubler who asks, “Who is Jesus after all, and do we really want to advance the church in these ways that so compromise Christ and his message?” – John E. Smith
The church is called to live in the truth. Those who complain about the church’s actions (or our non-involvement in righting what is wrong in the world) are helping us to see how very much we are in need of Jesus’ prayer. How is the Christ who prays for us helping your community notice where its accomodations to cultural values reside?
Mary Katharine Deeley is the director of Christ the Teacher Institute of the Sheil Catholic Center, the Roman Catholic campus ministry at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. She is the author of many books, a frequent speaker on diverse topics, and a pastoral advisor.
H. Gregory Waldrop was baptized in Mayfield, Kentucky in 1954 and ordained in Atwood, Tennessee in 1981. He is a United Methodist pastor serving Fountain Avenue United Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky.
John E. Smith has served as a United Methodist pastor for many years.
Homily Service 39, no. 6 (2006): 31-40.