28th May 2017
Revd. Cheryl Collins
I have three godchildren, and when I consider the fact that they have all left home now, it makes me feel very old. A couple of years ago I went to visit my god-daughter Serafina at Hull University. I remember the day she was born, and there she was a young woman: a head taller than me, especially in her big boots, with bright red lipstick, bright red hair( dyed) and a bright and sassy attitude.
It was both a deep joy and deeply scary to see Serafina the woman. It must have been even scarier for her parents. For it was clear that the time had come to trust that she was ready and let her fly. The experience of age suggests that there will be a few crash landings on the way, and yet we have to let go so that she can soar.
The time at the end of the Easter season feels a bit like this. It is time for Jesus to depart so that the church can receive the Spirit and begin to live in that new way which Jesus calls eternal life. Today we hear what is known as Jesus’s high priestly prayer as he commits the disciples to God anew and trusts that they can be ‘one as we are one’. Jesus ascends to the Father so that the disciples can soar in their turn.
One of the symbols we use in baptism is the lighted candle. We highlight the meaning of our Easter candle- that Jesus is the light of the world which not even the darkness of death can extinguish, and we share that light with the newly baptized at the end of our service by presenting them with their baptism candle, which is lit from the Easter candle.
In my head, I always link this with a phrase from the Nicene creed which we say every week when we declare that Jesus is ‘God from God, light from light’. We can demonstrate this for ourselves, by taking one lighted candle, representing God the Father and lighting another from it. The first light is not diminished by the lighting of the second- light from light increases the light in the world, there is always more light, we can keep lighting candles from each other ad infinitum.
Of course, that’s what we do on Easter Day. We light our candles form the newly-lit Easter candle as it is processed through the church to remind us that the light that the Father passed to the Son without diminishing the Father’s brilliance in any way, so that the Son became our Sun of righteousness, does not stop there. The light is passed on, from disciple to disciple, from generation to generation, from newly baptized to newly baptized.
At the beginning of Jesus’s high priestly prayer, the phrase that seems to characterize the relationship described between Jesus and God the Father is free flow. The glory for which Jesus prays is the glory he had before the world was made, the glory he has in the Father’s presence. Whose glory is it: God’s or Jesus’s? the question is pretty silly. As the Father’s Son, any glory that Jesus receives both reflects and returns to the Father, elevating the family name. Any glory that belongs to the Father belongs to the Son and heir as well. The same goes for power and everything else: ‘All mine are yours, and all yours are mine.” Jesus says. So, all gifts, all glory, all power flow freely between Jesus and God, neither holding back from fear or grasping from greed, each rejoicing in all honour, glory and power the other receives. Jesus and the Father are one- God from God, light from light, true God from true God.
And Jesus’ prayer for us is that we would be one in the same way.
The whole focus in the Easter season is on a new order which breaks the grip of all that is old, tired, deathly and enslaving. The Easter season is the beginning of living in a new way, eternal life is not about what happens after death, eternal life starts here and now. Everything is radiant with the light of the risen Christ and now is the moment when we prepare for that light to be passed to us, light from light.
In his prayer Jesus tells us that eternal life is in knowing the Father through the Son, receiving the glorious light of God, in the light of the Son. He uses the word know, which in John’s gospel is never just about head knowledge but always about the intimate knowledge of relationship. Through the Son we are invited into intimate knowledge of the Father, into a new relationship.
What might that mean for us? Well, our three passages to day draw out different aspects.
Acts talks about our vocation to speak the truth about who Jesus is, and to nurture our relationship with God through constantly devoting ourselves to prayer.
The first letter of Peter reminds us that because of this new relationship with God we can trust God in a deeper way and cast all our cares upon God, knowing that God cares for us.
John’s gospel reminds us that even when the church consisted of a few confused and frightened disciples it was and is in fact a community in intimate relationship with God, belonging to God, light from light so that we might shine as lights in the world.
The high priestly prayer does, if you like, complete the cycle begun when the Word became flesh, by offering us the way to be transformed into what we were created to be- the image of God- changed from glory into glory. And we are transformed not just for ourselves but so that through us the purposes of God may be more clearly shown in the world- shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father as the baptism service puts it.
It is the coming of the Spirit that makes this possible. God reaches out to us and we become holy as we welcome the God who comes to us.
And when we let down our walls to let the Spirit in we can see the light, we see ourselves and others filled with the light and love of God.
We are joined to God through prayer-in the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ Jesus. We pray not as individuals, but as a community, joined together, all lit from the same light.
Some of us are meeting together at the moment to Share God’s blessings. It’s about seeing how God has blessed us and how we in our turn can bless others- light from light again. It helps us see the shape of what God is doing among us and how God might be calling us to respond, which we’ll think about more fully in our vision morning.
Today’s readings remind us that our intimate prayerful relationship with the Father and our fellowship with one another and on into the wider community go hand in hand. Together let us journey on, light from the Light, let us wait in prayer on the risen Lord, confident that He will lead his church, light from light, to the glory of God the Father. Amen