+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The disciples were about to be scattered and Jesus knew it. Community offers a sense of strength and boldness. But, when community gives way to fear isolation ensues. Scattered and alone the disciples would find it unwise to be bold in the their confession of the faith. Perhaps silence would save them from certain martyrdom. During that fateful week, they would trade their allegiance to Jesus and to one another for the right to live.
The Gospel reading this morning takes us back, back to the upper room in Jerusalem, back before Jesus’ arrest, before His mocking and crucifixion. With the disciples present in the upper room, Jesus took the opportunity to pray. His prayer, as it’s recorded in John 17, is what is commonly known as His High Priestly Prayer.
It was just days before He was arrested, tried and crucified. And yet, Jesus’ wasn’t concerned for Himself. Rather, His concern was for His disciples. Community was about break down, giving way to fear. The disciples were about to be scattered and Jesus knew it.
Despite the personalities of the big three, Peter, James and John, the truth is, it was Jesus that held the disciples together all along. They clung to His every word and though they might not have always understood fully what He taught them, they followed Him because they trusted Him. So it was when some of the disciples wanted to leave Jesus because He told them they would soon eat His flesh and drink His blood, others said, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life?”
In the end, Jesus’ death would have a profound affect on the Church. What was foretold, what was long hoped for, namely, the reconciliation of God and men, would find its fulfillment on a hill outside the city wall. The sinless Son of God would die for the sinful sons of men. The people of God had a new hope that transcended all human understanding. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. On that day of torture and shame, God laid on His Son the iniquity of us all and, by His stripes, we have been healed.
But, Jesus’ death would have a profound affect on the church for other reasons too. His disciples would also taste isolation and the fear of potential martyrdom. Peter, as you know, showed us exactly what that kind fear could do to a believer. Under pressure he denied that he even knew Jesus! But, while the accusing finger of history points to Peter, the fact is, the other disciples, in a sense, did the same thing. Community broke down and they all fled. Consequently, only Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother, and John, the writer of the Gospel, were there at the foot of the cross when Jesus died.
Community offers a sense of strength and boldness. If that is truly the case, the Church today is on the precipice of a period of unprecedented challenge. To many people, religion, meaning the formal exercise of faith, is completely unnecessary. It has outlived its usefulness. It has given way, in many respects, to a vague sense of spirituality, which is an isolated, lonely sort of journey into the unknown. Consequently, Christian denominations are losing members at a rather alarming rate. The concept of truth has been taken out of the realm of objective proclamation and been absorbed, as it were, into the subjective realm of opinion, leaving us with not one truth, but with many truths.
Perhaps we don’t acknowledge it as we should, or, discuss it enough, but one of the greatest and most important blessings we enjoy as the people of God is the fellowship we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In His Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed that we would one, as He and His Father are one. God’s will for His people is unity, union, communion, that we be one, both with Him, and that we have fellowship with one another, that we provide for one another that sort community that staves off isolation and ultimately fear. If anything, the church should be a place where we come together to bear one another’s burdens, as we are mutually built up and sustained by the gifts our God so graciously gives us in Word and Sacrament.
Consequently, to the degree that we can join with our brothers and sisters across Christendom in a common confession of the faith we should certainly do so. To the degree we can’t, our differences of confession being too great, we should, nonetheless, pray for unity that we might stand all the more boldly against a world that is growing, seemingly exponentially, in it’s opposition to Christ and His Church. In the end, while the truth is to be believed and confessed in the Church, division is never to be celebrated.
Another profound affect Jesus’ death had on the Church comes with transition of Jesus being among us, in the flesh, vs., His being among us, en-fleshed, as it were, in Word and Sacrament. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And here, in His High Priestly Prayer, He says, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
The sin of many of today’s spiritually enlightened is that they look for God everywhere but where He has promised to be found. And the fact of the matter is, that same sin, what Luther called enthusiasm, still clings to all of us. Jesus says, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.” All the while, you and I, the church, cries out, “where are you now, Jesus!” “Where are you now!”
In His Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed that you and I would be sanctified, that is, that we would be set apart, made holy, by the truth, which is to say, by the Word of God.
God, as you know, created the heavens and the earth by the sound of His voice. Jesus calmed the sea by the sound of His voice. Today, you hear once again the sound of God’s voice. He calls you to unity. He calls you to find confidence, and the strength to confess His holy name, in the fellowship of your brothers and sisters in Christ, the communion of saints, the one holy, Christian church. And most importantly, He calls you to receive what He so earnestly desires to give you, His body, broken for you, and His blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
“O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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