A Sermon for Ascension Sunday in Prison

Scripture: John 17:1-11 & Luke 24:44-53

Sermon:

If you have watched the TV programs about the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and earlier in Iraq, one of the biggest criticisms the Government faces is the question “When will we know when it is time to pull out, to leave, to let the people of those countries and make their own decisions”. Its what we call an ‘Exit Strategy’.

How many of you have seen the program ‘Dragon’s Den’? It’s a program where people try to persuade some very rich business people to invest in a new venture that will hopefully make lots of money for the investor and for the person with the idea in the first place. There are things to consider though. The dragon doesn’t want to be the ONLY driving force – he has to let go. The dragon has to consider at which point he or she can withdraw their influence and wisdom, allowing the other person to be able to stand on their own two feet after being given a kick-start…. This exit strategy is very important. If they don’t have one, then all the time and money invested would almost certainly fall apart, and everything would have been pointless. They have an ‘Exit Strategy’.

In this morning’s Scriptures, we see that Jesus is coming to the conclusion of his time with the disciples as we know it. He is preparing them, and guess what? They still are struggling to get it. They are confused that this person who they followed for 3 years, the person who was arrested, the person who was convicted on trumped-up charges, crucified, died and somehow was risen on Easter Sunday… This person who appeared and disappeared, will again be leaving them.

He will be leaving them, but he will be keeping a promise that they will not be alone. He will be giving them the Holy Spirit, but first he has to leave them and be with his Father…… He has an exit strategy! A plan that involves God’s creation in the redeeming of people and that very same creation being transformed!

Some you may knowwhat it is like to be abandoned, some of you may know what it is like to be the people who have done the abandoning….. Some of you may feel that you have let people down, let family down……. But here God doesn’t abandon his people – he leaves for a while but he will return!

Imagine you have left here. You have done all the courses, you have kept your head down, you leave here with a skill maybe like building or decorating…. You have new possibilities compared to when you came here….. But without any support you struggle to get a job, you have time on your hands and you return to your familiar surroundings and mates… Its easy to fall back into your old ways isn’t it? After Good Friday, some of the Disciples went back to their old ways, they went back to what they were familiar with – fishing. The exit strategy isn’t complete, the time here doing all those courses becomes pointless unless you have a good exit strategy…. You need help, a kind word in those moments that are not looking good…. You at times need a harsh word as well to keep you on the right track. This is what God has done, this is what Jesus is trying to explain to the disciples, and this is what Jesus is praying to the Father for… For protection of his disciples.

In the reading from John’s Gospel Jesus is praying and there is an emphasis on the word ‘know’. Knowing is important. Knowing the risen Christ, knowing what he has done for us and to us, knowing what he desires of us and calls us to do, knowing what he is preparing for us—and preparing us for something better. The fact that most of the gospel readings for the Easter season take place at a table shows the intimacy that comes in knowing—in knowing Christ, in knowing God, in knowing one another.

It draws us once again to the table where Jesus has lingered with his friends on the night before his death. He finishes their final feast by praying for his disciples. In his prayer, Jesus is knowing all over the place: “And this is eternal life,” he says, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent….I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world….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.” Then Jesus, who knows these friends so well, releases them into the world and into the care and protection of God, who has known them from the beginning.

Jesus prays for and blesses his friends as he leaves them. The leaving is part of the blessing. As if the blessing can happen no other way than by his departure, by his letting go of the ones whom he has loved—these ones whom he will never cease to love but must release into their own lives, so that they may enter into the blessing and enact it on this earth.

The blessing that Jesus gives as he goes is one that will infuse the community with his love, his grace, his lifeblood. He gives a blessing that will run in the veins of those he has called to be his body; a blessing that will beat in the hearts of those whom he is sending into the world.

As we prepare to leave the season of Easter, what blessing do you need? What word or gesture of grace and love do you need to infuse you and sustain you to be a blessing in this world? Is there a blessing that might depend on your letting go, on releasing something—or seeking to be released from something—so that there will be a space for the blessing to enter?

One way we can see this blessing is by coming to the Lord’s table… A means of grace.

Prayer: Lord’s Prayer & Silent Prayer

Communion:

He was always the guest.

In the homes of Peter and Jairus,

Martha and Mary, Joanna and Susanna,

He was always the guest.

At the meal tables of the wealthy

Where he pled the case of the poor;

He was always the guest.

Upsetting polite company,

Befriending isolated people,

Welcoming the stranger,

He was always the guest.

But here,

At this table,

He is the host.

Those who wish to serve him

Must first be served by him,

Those who want to follow him,

Must first be fed by him,

Those who would wash his feet

Must first let him make them clean.

For this is the table

Where God intends us to be nourished;

This is the time

When Christ can make us new.

So come, you who hunger and thirst

For a deeper faith,

For a better life,

For a fairer world.

Jesus Christ,

Who sat at our tables,

Now invites us to be guests at his.

What we do here, we do

In imitation of what Christ first did.

Jesus gave an example and command

Rooted in the experience shared

With his disciples

In an upstairs room in Jerusalem.

On the night on which he was betrayed,

And as they were sitting at a meal,

Jesus took some bread and broke it.

He gave it to the disciples saying,

‘This is my Body. It is broken for you.

Do this to remember me.’

Later, after they had eaten,

He took a cup of wine and said,

‘This cup is the new relationship with God

Made possible because of my death.

Drink this all of you, to remember me.’

So we do as Jesus did.

We take this bread and cup,

The produce of the earth and fruit of human labour.

In these, Jesus has promised to be present;

Through these, Christ can make us whole.

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