On 17th May 2015, the seventh Sunday of Easter, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 1, Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 and John 17:6-19.
One of the emphases in many walks of life now seems to be the desirability of being a ‘reflective practitioner’. Books are written on the subject and courses are run to help people become such a person. Some of you may well have read such books or be such a person. For those who don’t know what a reflective practitioner is, let me just briefly explain. The idea is that we should take time to think about things we have done, to reflect on them, and learn from what went well and what didn’t go so well, in order to keep on learning.
As we listen in to Jesus’ final conversation with his disciples, he seems to be reflecting on his ministry. We know Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer, some of which may well have been time to mull over the events of the day with his Father before preparing for the work of the next day. Here, at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus is again reflecting with his Father, but not in solitude; the disciples are with him. He lists the things he has done: ‘I have made your name known’, ‘the words you gave to me I have given to them’, ‘I protected them in your name’, ‘I guarded them’, ‘I have sent them into the world’.
Inevitably, in order for anyone to reflect on what they have done, the word ‘I’ is used a lot. If someone wants to reflect on what they themselves have done, it’s not possible to be honest without using the first person. Sometimes it’s tempting to point the finger and say: ‘They did it’ or ‘They made me do it’ but the essence of reflective practice is to own what you did without false modesty or shirking responsibility. Jesus uses ‘I’ a great deal in this fairly short passage as he reflects.
Having reflected, Jesus looks forward to what will be the next stage in his life and in his relationship with the disciples: ‘I am coming to you’. Jesus is about to leave the disciples but not without support. As he reflects, Jesus prays for God to provide the disciples with what they will need in his absence: ‘Protect them from the evil one’, ‘Sanctify them in the truth’. Jesus asks not that the disciples be removed from the challenges of living in an unbelieving world, but that they be protected from falling into temptation. Alongside that, the other side of the coin you could say, Jesus asks that the disciples be made holy in God’s word, which is the truth. Here we see Jesus’ priorities for his disciples. The wonderful final sentence of today’s reading shows that Jesus played the critical part in that sanctification of his disciples. He sanctified himself by becoming a sacrifice on the cross, both to save his disciples and those who came after, and to make them holy – consecrated to serve God.
We know from the various readings we have had since Easter that the resurrected Jesus has some kind of different quality about him which sometimes prevented the disciples from recognising him immediately. At the same time, he was still himself once they saw beyond the superficial differences. The Jesus whose ascension was remembered on Thursday was the same as the one who walked and talked with his disciples. The two men in white, who arrived once Jesus could no longer be seen, assured the disciples that ‘this same Jesus’ would return one day.
In the church year, we are currently in an ‘in between’ time, the waiting time between the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The nine days are set aside for prayer and preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Such a nine day period of prayer with a particular focus is traditionally called a novena. In terms of the history of the world, we are also in an ‘in between’ time, the period the men in white referred to – between Jesus’ ascension and his return.
Have you ever considered what Jesus is doing in this period? We know that Jesus ascended to be with God the Father and to sit at his right hand. But what is he doing? We’re told in the Bible that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. From what we read in the Gospels, not least the passage for today, Jesus was a person of prayer and had a deep concern for the welfare of his disciples. Death, resurrection and ascension have not changed that. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus ‘always lives to intercede’ for us. Jesus is the great high priest forever, and he faithfully prays for each one of us, knowing our needs and having the power to make a difference. If we sin, John writes in his first letter that Jesus is our advocate with the Father – he speaks on our behalf.
Before Jesus ascended, before the men in white gave their message, Jesus had one last thing to say to the disciples: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.’ Not only has Jesus ascended to be beside God the Father, upholding us by his prayers, but he has promised that the Holy Spirit is available to believers to give them power to witness. At this point we are preparing to celebrate that first outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. However, we have no need to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to each one of us. He, or she as many prefer, is with us, in us, now. We are not given this divine power just for fun, but for a purpose. Jesus commanded his disciples to be his witnesses.
The disciples were to begin their witnessing in Jerusalem before spreading the word ‘in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Jesus didn’t mention Second Life but it must surely come into that description. With the help of Second Life we can indeed reach people from many nations of the world and tell them the Good News. We don’t do this alone. We have Jesus praying for us and the Holy Spirit empowering us.
You might wonder why we bother to have a special time to remember the coming of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is with us anyway, why bother. However, as someone has said, we leak. The Holy Spirit in us leaks out and we need refilling many times. It’s always good to ask to be filled again and renewed in power to witness to Jesus.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love.