Based on Acts 1 6-14 and John 17:1-11
The link to the video for this reflection is https://youtu.be/IEpFbuh51xM
Bishop Peter’s video is found at https://youtu.be/JpSGuxrtvis
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
Today in our first reading, we heard the story of how Jesus went back to heaven – the story of the Ascension. Jesus challenged his disciples to spread his message locally and across the whole world. He promised the power of the Holy Spirit to help them do this and then he was lifted up and taken up into heaven. The disciples then meet 2 angels when they were already pretty dazed who confirmed what had just happened. Finally the disciples went back home to the upper room in Jerusalem. What they did next was to pray. It said they were very constant in their prayer at this point. As they were preparing for the Holy Spirit to come to them for the very first time, (which we will hear about next week!). They were joined by the women in Jesus life, which included his mother Mary and Jesus brothers.
In this circumstance, when they were in a very challenging turbulent time, it is too easy for us to lose sight of how this must have felt first time around, because we have the great gift of hindsight. We know the Holy Spirit came and the disciples were empowered to share Jesus message, but that is very different from living with the action as it pans out. Into this turbulence, the disciples and the women and Jesus’ brothers turn to prayer. We can understand why they were devoted and constant in their prayer. It was a good way to pass the time as they came to terms with Jesus leaving them forever, while they watched and waited for what was to come.
Actually from our current circumstances we also know it would be good to be looking back on these times not living them. I think we will need to remember when we get to that point – How these times have really felt. Stay with that, rather than relying on our wisdom after the event!!! Staying in the moment matters right now uncomfortable as it is.
What the disciples did in their turbulent times speaks into what we can do in our turbulent times – They were constant in prayer and it is good for us to spend time praying, devoting ourselves to it. This is partly because it is something we can do, rather than one of the many things we can’t. It is also something that will change things – as prayer to God always does.
Praying in the time between Ascension and Pentecost is now built into the fabric of the church through the ‘thy kingdom come’ initiative, started by our Archbishop’s Justin and John in 2016. Time to be set apart to particularly pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. To pray in a more evangelistic way – to share the good news with others. Our week day worship materials are from Thy Kingdom Come for 2020 last week and this coming week.
As I have said before prayer is sometimes the only thing we can do, when the going gets tough. I think this is particularly true in those moments we encounter turbulent times and difficult change, which often renders us vulnerable and feeling pretty powerless. When something very difficult is happening to ourselves or someone we love. We have no control, we can’t do anything helpful or practical to ease the situation. We just have to live it day by day! Or when powerlessness is engendered by something over which we have no control and is a long way away from us. That very much encapsulates our current covid pandemic circumstances. There seems to be so little we can do practically in this situation, but the one thing we can always do is pray.
And prayers do get answered, not necessarily in the ways we want or imagine, but in God’s way to God’s plan and God’s timing. Prayer for a situation leaving it to God can never hurt or make a situation worse.
When we think about answers to prayers – how long it can take and how it can be different from what we imagine, I was reminded about a prayer vigil I took part in. It was a long time ago in 1988 – Now over 30 years. It took place on a Christian summer camp for young people – I was helping to lead (at Hilfield Friary – which is not that far from here and familiar to some via quiet days).
Over a couple of hours, one warm August evening – 60 young people and the camp leadership team prayed for a number of situations across our world. At the time, it felt like a drop in the ocean compared to the size of the problems we were praying for. Though it was good to pray – I remember feeling it was pretty hopeless, that things would never change, but set against that was that praying was something we could actually do in the face of feeling really powerless at the way our world was.
We prayed for the concerns in our world that the young people aged between 14-21 raised. These were the signs of the times in our minds then in 1988, we prayed around 4 specific areas
Firstly – The end of the cold war – nuclear arms race, and in particular for the Berlin Wall to be taken down.
Secondly – For the release of Terry Waite and the other hostages.
Thirdly – For world peace – around flash points that surrounded Colonel Gadafi and Libya.
Fourthly – For an end to any regime where one set of people oppressed another. In particular we prayed for an end to apartheid in South Africa and for the release of Nelson Mandela
I have to say subsequently, that each time the world has moved on in any one of those areas we prayed for and the world has really moved on in all those areas since 1988, I have been reminded of that prayer vigil and those I prayed with. But above all I have been very struck by how God has moved through those prayers and the prayers of countless people across the world to bring change and justice. Where back in 1988 there was no reason to believe that change and justice were likely. All that seemed a really impossible mountain range to climb in 1988 – and yet from the vantage point of 2020 – we are well over the other side of most of that seemingly impossible mountain range and contemplating prayer needs now. These include the current very difficult situation in Zimbabwe and the worldwide impact of Coronavirus
There are lots and lots of different ways to pray. Praying is important whether we are in challenging or turbulent times or day to day life is running smoothly. We pray
To share our lives with God
To get to know God
To express our love and thanks to God
To enable us to love people
To bring our needs to God.
To experience God’s love for us
We could learn a lot from the disciples, Jesus brother’s and the women’s response to pray and to look at our own devotion and constancy in prayer.
Prayer changes things. Last year I had the pleasure of attending an evening with Terry Waite – which was very moving as well as deeply inspiring, and I am going to finish with some words from the story of Terry Waite about prayer and a prayer. Just to recap his story – Terry Waite was held hostage for a total of 1,763 days – until 18 November, 1991. During that time Archbishop Runcie prayed for him every day. Speaking following Lord Runcie’s death, Mr Waite said he had always been grateful to him for praying for him while he remained in chains. “He was exceptionally kind and supportive to my family during that time, though of course I did not know anything about it until my release,” he said. I repeat – Prayer changes things
End with a prayer
Lord, teach us to pray as you prayed.
Teach us to pray early in the morning and during the night.
Teach us to pray in times of happiness and in times of deepest sadness.
Teach us to pray in desert places and in holy places.
Teach us to pray patiently and persistently.
Teach us to pray humbly and graciously.
Teach us to pray with a childlike spirit, in love and trust.
Teach us to pray ‘Let your will be done’ with courage and faith.
Lord, teach us to pray ‘Thy kingdom come’. For your name’s sake.
Pictures, Ascension picture from St Teilo’s at St Fagan’s – National Museum of History, Hilfield Youth Camp marquee in 2005, Terry Waite at an evening in Southwark Cathedral