The Ascension of Jesus
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
At about 10:40 on Sunday mornings, a small group of folks gather in the Quiet Room to pray.
We pray for the congregation, sometimes by name.
We pray for folks whom we've never met but for whom folks have asked for prayer.
We pray for the community we serve.
We pray for those making their way to the service.
And we pray for our worship.
More often than not, our prayers include a prayer for the minister, for which I am always grateful.
It is good to know that folk are praying for you.
I know that such prayer is not confined to the small group who meet every Sunday just before worship begins.
Every day, folk gathered here pray.
In their own way.
In their own places.
In their own time.
A line of a favourite hymn says: The voice of prayer is never silent.
I like to think of that being fulfilled by the people who gather here not just when we are together but when we are on our own too.
Praying for one another.
Praying for those we know and those we don't know.
Praying for our congregation, our community and our world.
I've shared with you before the story of this prayer shawl.
A gift from some women with whom I used to work.
It lives in my study, draped over a chair.
When I'm working late at night or in the wee small hours when the heating has gone off, it provides warmth.
But much more than that.
Every time I look at it, touch it or drape it around me, I am reminded of the group of women who prayed as they knit this shawl.
Those women whose ministry was to pray for others and to gift others with a tangible sign of their prayers.
Prayer is a gift often overlooked or undervalued.
Even by those of us who believe in prayer.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus prays for us.
And allows us to listen in to that prayer:
And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Jesus prayed for us.
Right before he left his disciples, he prayed for them - and he prayed for us.
"I am no longer in the world but they are in the world...protect them."
This is the last Sunday in the season of Easter.
Next Sunday is Pentecost.
This is also the Sunday when we celebrate Ascension.
And so, Jesus' words, "I am no longer in the world but they are in the world...protect them" are even more poignant heard today.
These words are like a blessing prayed on us by Jesus as he leaves the world that he entered as a baby born in Bethlehem.
That part of God's mission is over. Mission Accomplished.
Time for Jesus to return to God.
But what's next?
That's the scary bit.
Because the message of Ascension is - that it's over to us.
Jesus hands over the tools for us to continue the mission of God.
Next week, we'll celebrate the coming of the Spirit in Pentecost.
We'll celebrate that Jesus didn't leave us on our own to accomplish God's mission.
But celebrating the gift of the Spirit does not lessen any the responsibility that is ours - to serve God in the world today, to make known to all the world the love of God.
"I am no longer in the world but they are in the world...protect them"
Those words of Jesus are a fitting benediction as he passes on the baton to us.
And Jesus continues to pray for us as he leaves Gods work in our hands.
"I am no longer in the world but they are in the world...protect them"
The Ascension of Jesus is not the end - but a beginning.
As the disciples witnessed Jesus being taken from them,,they are left uncertain and afraid.
They stood around, wondering what to do next.
And were chided for their inactivity.
why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
That is a phrase that has distracted Christians for centuries.
This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
All through the ages, folk have spent many hours trying to ascertain just when that promise will be fulfilled.
When exactly will Jesus return - in the same way that the disciples saw him go?
It's so ironic that a phrase intended to spur those disciples into action has become the phrase that has proved a distraction for many others.
Countless people have put lots of energy into determining when that promised return should happen and then have spent even more effort on travelling the world in order to enlighten others as to when that will be.
A phrase intended to stop the navel gazing has become the basis for folk to indulge and work themselves into a frenzy of inactivity in the building of God's kingdom.
Fortunately the first disciples saw that admonishment for what it was - a call to action.
And what did they do?
They got together and devoted themselves to prayer.
In prayer, they were able to discern the "What next" that God had in store for them.
And, in prayer, they were equipped to continue the mission begun in Jesus.
They saw the Ascension of Jesus for what it was - a passing on of the baton to them.
And, fresh in their memory, was the prayer of Jesus for them.
Jesus prays for us as we engage the world with the message of God's love.
Jesus prays for us as we pray for others.
The Ascended Jesus commissions is to continue the work he began.
The mission of God - In our hands.
A scary thought - but one mediated by the knowledge that Jesus prays for us.
How can we then stint on praying for one another?
May you know yourself sustained by prayer this week- and pray for others.