A reflection on the readings for Easter 6: John 17: 20-26, Acts 16. 16-24 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers
I have personally had a very bizarre couple of months. I was rushed into hospital on St. Patrick’s Day, so missed out on all of the events of Palm Sunday, Holy Week & Easter. In fact, I had major surgery on the Wednesday of Holy Week so that week saw me go through my own personal resurrection experience as I gradually recovered. The cause of all my trauma was gallstones and many parallels could be drawn with the Resurrection as the stones were finally declared to have gone. For me, that time was full of waiting. Waiting for test results, waiting for the operation, waiting for the all clear, waiting to be released from hospital, and then finally, while I was recuperating, waiting until I was well enough to return home to my parish.
So, I find myself writing this for the Feminist Theology Blog on the eve of the Sunday after Ascension the day when I will finally return to work after a very unsettled eight weeks, in the midst of another period of waiting.
We wait in Advent for the birth of Jesus, we wait in Lent for Jesus to die on the cross, we wait for three days for Jesus to rise from the dead and then finally after the Ascension, we wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
I think the disciples must have wanted to run away and hide after the Ascension. They had had a troubled and confusing few weeks as Jesus was arrested and crucified and then the events of the Resurrection. Jerusalem was not a safe place for Jesus’ followers, but that was where they had to wait. They knew something was going to happen, but they would not have known quite what. Fear of a difficult situation and the uncertainty that brings often makes us take a step back away. However, Jesus had left the disciples with a mission to fulfil and the means of fulfilling that mission was what they were waiting for, they could not do it without the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Reading the passage from John’s gospel and reflecting on the context the disciples found themselves in brings tremendous reassurance. Part of that great prayer of Jesus just before his betrayal where he has prayed to be returned to the glory he shared with God before creation, the disciples he will leave behind in the world though they are not of the world, consecrating them for their mission ahead. Now, he prays that all who believe in him ‘may be one’. This unity is rooted in the life of God; we share the unity that Jesus shared with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus commanded us to ‘love one another’, that was no mere exhortation, but a challenge to share our life in God. We share the unity that Jesus has with God and the love that the disciples were commanded to have for one another so that we can continue the mission of the church. This love is a new love, it is of a sort that has never been fully experienced, it is a love that reveals itself only through the cross, completely unconditional and all consuming, and it is the love that we are called to share with one another, the love that holds us together in unity.
Two millennia ago, the church was a small, close-knit group of followers, huddled together in fear and anticipation of what would happen next. Today the church stretches across the globe, it has grown and developed and is now incredibly diverse – it seems unity is very far away. The phrase ‘that they may all be one’ is the central theme of the ecumenical movement; unity is constantly strived for despite our differences. However, structural or institutional unity is not what is sought; rather it is the relationship of unity, such as is found between the persons of the Trinity.
We have been reminded again of the divisions that exist not only between the denominations, but within the Anglican Communion itself, as Mary Glasspool is ordained as Bishop. I draw heart from the fact that despite the division in the Anglican Communion, the Anglican women have declared their desire to strive for unity within the Communion. I am also reminded of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:
‘For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3. 14-19)
That passage strikes me as the perfect message for the whole of the church at this time, as much as Paul was writing for specific situations in the early church, I can’t help feeling that this is a message that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of. We are all one, we are all the church, we are all one body. And we wait…..we wait for the reminder of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we wait for unity, we wait for mutual understanding, we wait for tolerance, we wait…..! The list is endless. We wait…but we never give up, or given in…and we trust that it is God who will prevail. We wait and we continue to strive for unity within the church.
‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.’ (Ephesians 3. 20-21).