RCL Year A Easter 7
Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10 and 33-36, 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11, Saint John 17:1-11

Today is the single Sunday of the Christian Year that we focus on the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter, was Ascension Day, and Ascensiontide bridges Easter and Pentecost.

The Gospel today is the first third or so of the seventeenth chapter of Saint John. This chapter since the sixteenth century has been known as the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus.

Of interest to me is the fact that today also is the only Sunday of the Christian Year that the Gospel is taken from this chapter. Next year we shall have the middle third of this chapter, and the year after that the final third of this chapter before the cycle begins again.

The “high priestly prayer” of Jesus falls in Saint John as the climax of the Gospel before his passion. Its setting is the Last Supper, and Jesus lays aside his instructions and teachings to the disciples. As the Gospel itself says, Jesus “looked up to heaven,”[1] and addresses God the Father directly as the disciples only overhear.

The prayer Jesus makes is that of an intercessor to God the Father on behalf of the disciples who overhear but also for future disciples, which includes you and me. Jesus uses many phrases resembling the Lord’s Prayer. Remember that Jesus earlier told the disciples that he would send another Advocate in his absence. And so, in this Jesus in this prayer begins to do on earth what he will do in heaven after his Ascension: he prays for his disciples. The second Advocate whom Jesus will send is the Holy Spirit whose descent we celebrate next Sunday, the Day of Pentecost.

And so, after all this introduction to the Gospel, what does this have to do with you and me? The principal petition Jesus makes for you and for me comes at the end of today’s Gospel. Jesus asks the Father to protect you and to protect me. This petition Jesus makes so that we, you and I, may be one with him and one with the Father.

That union is indissoluble so long as we are Jesus’ disciples. And that union is the basis of Saint Paul’s declaration in the Epistle to the Romans that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[2]

How you appropriate that indissoluble union is yours to determine. You are free to minister in Christ’s name. You are free to intercede, to love, to spend yourself however you find a way to do it in God’s enterprise to draw the whole world to himself. And we are in the world for just these purposes.

And so, Jesus’ Ascension means a lot. It means that his going away sets us free to be what God made us to be. It means that he is in heaven interceding for us. It means that the second Advocate is with us empowering us to be God’s people in every circumstance imaginable.

In today’s First Lesson, the disciples asked Jesus when he would restore the kingdom to Israel.[3] They come to see, as I hope you see, that Jesus has a much more ambitious agenda than that.

[1] Saint John 17:1.

[2] Romans 8:39.

[3] Acts 1:6.