Today is the Sunday after the Ascension and it is appropriate that we have the second version of his being taken up attributed to the author, tradition says was Luke the Physician.
The disciples ask Jesus whether or not this is the time for the restoration of kingdom in Israel. They are referring to the Davidic kingdom not the sham kingdoms of the Herodians.
God has done such a monumental work in the Resurrection that perhaps now Jesus will fulfill the messianic promise. But Jesus says that only God knows when the time will come. In the meantime they have work to do as his witnesses throughout all of Palestine and to the ends of the earth.
The older RSV gives a better sense—the uttermost parts of the earth. That is the reason the disciples, soon to be called apostles—those sent, will find meaning—as His witnesses in the world.
He guarantees that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and then he is taken up.
They are snapped back to reality when the two angels ask them why they are staring up into the sky since they have work to do. They return to what comes to be called the Upper Room and devote themselves to prayer in the company of certain women including the mother of Jesus and his brothers.
The stage is set for the coming in power of the Holy Spirit which we will celebrate next week at the Feast of Pentecost.
It seems to me that the key preparation they will make in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit is that they pray in community together.
What a contrast this is with our time where most prayer when it occurs is solitary and personal with the exception of Sunday morning when we look to the formal prayers of our liturgy led by clergy and other ministers.
There is nothing wrong with private prayer but there is so much right in communal prayer when all pray in their own way for something. We are a praying people—we need to pray more. The Apostle Paul writes to his churches that they are to pray without ceasing. We can certainly find a little time to pray as well.
Prayer puts us in communication with God and prepares the spiritual ground for what God wants to offer.
The writer of 1st Peter writes of what God has to offer even the midst of a fiery ordeal. He tells them to cast all their anxiety upon God who cares for them—an invitation to us as well.
He ends this passage by saying that God himself will restore, support, strengthen and establish them. This is a fascinating statement because in the Greek all these actions of God are very similar so the writer is emphasizing four times that God will buttress them against any force or power.
God makes that promise to us as well. We need to abide in this assurance and act accordingly.
In our gospel reading for today, John winds up his recollection of Jesus’ final discourses. Jesus ends with a prayer of power and protection. Jesus in his humanity, I believe, has come to terms with his earthly success—11 guys and some faithful women.
Those who flocked in the past have moved on to other things. These faithful few are the core—the ones he understands have been chosen for him.
For their sakes he prays for their protection.
We know from scripture and tradition that most of these men, at least, will be martyred so how did God protect them?
The answer is in what Jesus says elsewhere: they can destroy the body but the soul will be protected; the relationship with God endures through the death experience just as it has done with Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection.
Christians are a resurrection people. In the resurrection of Jesus we have a foretaste of what we all will experience.
In the meantime we have work to do. It is time to pray and it is time to witness not by what we say but what we do. We are a faith family bound by friendship in Christ—we are here for each other and for those who are vulnerable in our community and the world. The Holy Spirit is doing a good work in us and it shows.