Acts 1. 15 – 17, 21 – 26

John 17. 6 – 19

Fr Alex


On Thursday we celebrated the great feast of the Ascension, as Christ goes up into heaven, clothed with our humanity.  We saw a vision of our own destiny: that one day we will be like him, as all is remade and perfected, as he is perfect.

We also received the promise that he wouldn’t leave us comfortless, to struggle through the challenges of life.  He promised to send us the Spirit to guide and sustain us.

And so the Ascension points us to the Day of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday.  But this Sunday we’re in a sort of in-between time: Christ has ascended, but the Spirit hasn’t yet descended, at least in our keeping of liturgical time.

So what is the meaning of this period for us?

The Church has long kept these days as particular time for prayer; just as the disciples devoted themselves to prayer before the Day of Pentecost.  In their own-in-between time, they looked forward to the gift of the Spirit, and pondered deeply the mysteries they had witnessed in the Resurrection and Ascension.  It must’ve been an extraordinarily powerful time.

And I think today’s Gospel passage encourages us to discover the power of this in-between time for ourselves: looking forward to all that is to come; but also looking back, to all that has been.

We’ve just heard part of what is called the ‘High Priestly Prayer.’  We see Jesus here as our great high priest, making intercession to God on humanity’s behalf.

It takes place at the end of the Last Supper, just before Jesus goes out to Gethsemane.  Jesus is preparing his followers in prayer for life without him.  He prays that they may be protected and sanctified as he sends them into the world to share his good news.

But strangely enough, Jesus doesn’t begin by looking forward to what is to come; he looks back to what has already happened.

“I have made your name known to them… the words that you gave to me I have given to them… they have believed that you sent me.”

Our translation doesn’t quite capture the magnitude of this.  Jesus hasn’t just told his followers what God’s name is.  ‘Name,’ here, is a figure of speech: to reveal God’s ‘name’ in this sense is in fact to reveal the very character of God.

In other words, in Jesus we have seen God.  And we have seen in him everything about God that God wants us to know; and we have seen all we’re going to be shown.

Throughout his prayer, Jesus prays at great length for his followers, that they might be kept and protected as he leaves them.  But he doesn’t once pray for the world that he is about to leave.  The opposite, in fact: he says “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me.”

Why is this?  He doesn’t pray for God to protect and keep the world because God’s love for the world has already been shown in sending Jesus for its salvation.  All the world needs has already been given, in him. 

And he promises to send his Spirit to guide and inspire his followers to they share this good news with all the world.  But the Spirit won’t teach them anything new about God; it will only help them to understand and live out what they have already seen in Jesus.

There’s something profoundly retrospective about Christianity.  The most important things in the world have already happened, in the incarnation.

This is quite an alien concept to our modern world.  Increasingly we’re told that the past is backward, tainted.  We’re always looking ahead to something else – some far-off world that’s difficult to imagine and even more difficult to get to, because no one can agree on what it should look like.

But the calling of the Christian is to witness in this in-between time.  The Christian doesn’t necessarily look forward to a better world: but rather tries to help the world to see the better way that Christ has already shown us.

And I think this might be a helpful way to approach this holy time between Ascension and Pentecost.  To pray for the gift of the Spirit, yes; but also to look back and notice afresh where the Spirit has already been at work in our lives.  Those moments when we have been held and sustained by the love of God.

And as we look back with thankfulness in this in-between time, we come to understand that we don’t need to look forward in anxiety, as if we have to do something to earn God’s protection, or that his love might somehow be taken away from us. 

Rather, we rejoice in the knowledge that we have already received all we need in Christ; and that he is always with us, through his Spirit.

Jesus tells us in this prayer that he spoke all these words so that his followers “may have [his] joy made complete in themselves.”

May you discover afresh that joy in this time, in all that has already been, and in all that is to come.  Amen.