SMC – Easter 7 2019
We may be forgiven for questioning why today`s Gospel reading, on the Sunday after The Ascension and the seventh of Eastertide and we are looking forward to the Feast of Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Spirit, we are taken back to the night on which our Saviour was betrayed. We have set before us the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in Chapter 17 of St. John`s Gospel which comes at the end of the long Farewell Discourses of Jesus which take place following The Lord` Supper in the Upper Room after Judas has left.
In one sense, I suspect, the Church has chosen this passage precisely because after Our Lord`s Ascension the Apostles had returned to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, whom Jesus had promised to send. They had some ten days both to ponder all that had happened from Palm Sunday to Our Lord`s Ascension, to preach daily in the Temple and to wait and prepare for the coming and the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is perhaps significant, also, that today is known in some parts of the Christian Church as the World Day for Social Communications and on that subject I will return in a few minutes.
The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus emphasises the unity of the People of God in spite of the division within God`s Holy Catholic Church and – can you believe it – there are more than30 denominations, large and small, in Christ`s Church! This is, of course, a great scandal for it is a betrayal of what Our Lord and Saviour desired. We read that Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, `Holy Father, I pray not only for these, but for those also – the like of you and me and the faithful through all ages – who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you love me.` A little later in the prayer to the Father but, as though over the apostles since they are present, Jesus continues: `I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.` Thus ends our Lord`s High Priestly Prayer to the Father and it is only then that He with the disciples he goes out across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane for His betrayal and glorification through Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension.
The unity of Christ`s Church is clearly something that we must all pray for and this unity will only come about through the love of Jesus, the power of His Holy Spirit who is the spirit not only of love but of truth. And it is the Truth that sets us free. Sadly the church, throughout the ages, even from earliest times as we see kin the Acts of the Apostles has been divided and, of course, the reality is that true Unity will only come in the fullness of time at the consummation of all things when, the Christ, in fulfilment of His promise returns in all His glory as King of kings and Lord of Lords as the Judge Eternal throned in splendour to judge us all.
On 24thJanuary last, the memorial of S. Francis de Sales, Pope Francis wrote a message, “We are members one of another” from St. Paul`s Letter to the Ephesians ch.4 v.25 and subtitled: From social network communities to the human community. The paper says much that is good and encouraging but also, and very properly, contains warnings. I am now going to quote two significant paragraphs:
“Everyone can see how, in the present scenario, social network communities are not automatically synonymous with community. In the best cases, these virtual communities are able to demonstrate cohesion and solidarity, but often they remain simply groups of individuals who recognize one another through common interests or concerns characterized by weak bonds. Moreover, in the social web identity is too often based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group: we define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us, giving rise to suspicion and to the venting of every kind of prejudice (ethnic, sexual, religious, and other). This tendency encourages groups that exclude diversity, that even in the digital environment nourish unbridled individualism which sometimes ends up fomenting spirals of hatred. In this way, what ought to be a window on the world becomes a showcase for exhibiting personal narcissism.”
“The NET is an opportunity to promote encounter with others, but it can also increase our self-isolation, like a web that can entrap us. Young people are the ones most exposed to the illusion that the social web can completely satisfy them on a relational level. This is the dangerous phenomenon of young people becoming “social hermits” who risk alienating themselves completely from society. This dramatic situation reveals a serious rupture in the relational fabric of society, one we cannot ignore.”
Some weeks ago, a wise lady-friend now in her eighties, who had been the Head Teacher of Pattishall Church of England Infants School of which I was Chair of Governors sent me a photograph of a group of former pupils, now grown-up and working, meeting up for a supper. There were about ten of them, all sitting round a table, but each looking at his or her smartphone and not paying attention to each other.
We need to remind ourselves that in all that Jesus teaches it is apparent that all true Christiansare part of His Body of which He is the Head. This in itself reminds us to pay attention to our Redeemer, to His Heavenly Father and to be aware of the Holy Spirit our Advocate who indwells each one of us for that IS CHRIST`S GIFT TO US .