A reflection for the Sunday after Ascension Day

Reading: John 17: 1-11

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.

Reflection for the Sunday after Ascension Day

‘I will say a prayer for you’. ‘You are in my thoughts and prayers’. These are phases we hear in times of loss or sorrow. When we are going through difficult times, there is great reassurance in knowing that somebody is praying for us. It is encouraging to know that somebody cares enough and has taken the time to pray and bring our cares and needs to God. Knowing that, we feel supported.

Of course, we benefit from prayer at any time and not only in moments of crisis or difficulty. I have received great encouragement from somebody who sends me a text message periodically to let me know that they are praying for me – it really means a lot.

Today’s gospel reading from John, Chapter 17 is a long and heartfelt prayer offered by Jesus to God the Father in which he prayed for his disciples. The setting is the upper room, after the Last Supper, where John records the farewell discourse given by Our Lord to his disciples before his arrest and trial. Having explained to them everything that was about to happen, he then looked up to heaven and prayed.

John 17 is a complex passage of scripture and does not make easy reading, but it is worth reading over a number of times and discovering the rich treasure therein. Jesus prayed for his friends, knowing that he would soon be parted from them and that they would be left to continue the mission for which he had called them. It reveals his deep care and concern for them. They had been prepared in advance for the task of mission: ‘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’, but Jesus knew that knowledge and training would not be enough for them to succeed, they would need God’s continual help and support.

Jesus prayed for two specific things for his disciples – first, for God’s protection and second, for their unity as a community – “so that they may be one, as we are one”. Our Lord knew that this small band of loyal followers would face huge challenges, including persecution and hostility, as they stepped out into the world as his representatives after his resurrection and ascension. To succeed in their mission, they would need to be united as a community and to know God’s care and protection.

If we read a little further beyond to today’s reading, we discover something remarkable from which we can take great encouragement. Jesus did not pray only for those first disciples, but for those who would come after them and that includes us! “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (John 17: 20-21).

Our church community, in common with Christians all over the world, has faced new challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic through being unable to meet together for public worship or any of the other activities that help to build us up as a community. Many people are suffering through isolation, although we can be thankful for the technology that helps us stay in touch. We live in uncertain times and although we hope to be able to gather for worship again by the end of July, we will likely have to do things differently for some time and to live with certain restrictions.

Let us take encouragement from the knowledge that the risen, ascended Christ intercedes for us in heaven, that he understands our needs and cares deeply for his community, the worldwide church and our small part of it. Let us also follow his example and pray for the church, that we may be united as one.

Collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day

O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Prayers of intercession

Lord Jesus Christ, great high priest,
living for ever to intercede for us,
pray for the Church, your broken body in the world
that we may know your protection and fulfil our calling
as your disciples.

Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, king of righteousness,
enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high,
pray for the world, and make it subject to your gentle rule.
Give wisdom and guidance to all leaders
and all who devise and implement policy
for the welfare of others.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, Son of Man,
drawing humanity into the life of God,
pray for your brothers and sisters in need, distress or sorrow.
Comfort the bereaved,
grant healing to all who are ill,
support those who are lonely and isolated,
and strengthen all who are worried or anxious.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, pioneer of our salvation,
bringing us to glory through your death and resurrection,
surround us with your saints and angels
those who have died trusting your promises
and bring us with them to the fullness of your kingdom in heaven.

Lord, hear us,
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, Lord over all things,
ascended far above the heavens and filling the universe,
pray for us who receive the gifts you give us for work in your service.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ,
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at your feet;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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