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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 16, 2021

Passage: John 17:6-19

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Summary:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Detail:

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 16th, 2021
Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church 

 

Some of you might already know this, but this past Thursday, the church celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. As celebrations go in the church, it’s a pretty major one. It commemorates the last post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples, and on the occasion, we are told that Jesus literally rises up into the sky until he’s taken out of sight by a cloud. And his disciples are staring up into the sky, awestruck, when two angels appear next to them and ask them why they are staring up into the sky; as if to say, “There’s nothing to see here.” Then the angels tell them that Jesus will return, so the disciples go back to Jerusalem and remain there for about ten days. At least, that’s the gist of the story. 

 

And we are now in what is traditionally known as Ascensiontide, the ten day stretch of time between Jesus’ ascension and the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples and filled them with power to go forth from Jerusalem to spread the good news. We aren’t told much about what took place during those ten days - we do get one little vignette about how the disciples cast lots to decide who would replace Judas Iscariot, but apart from that detail, we aren’t given any information about what they were up to. So you might not think that there’s much grist for the mill when it comes to this in-between-time.  

 

But the story of the Ascension got me thinking this week. Particularly the detail about where the disciples were. Jerusalem. After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, they head back to Jerusalem. And there, it seems, they wait. Jerusalem. The City of Peace - that’s actually what Jerusalem means. And it was in Jerusalem that the disciples witnessed the risen Jesus appear to them and say to them, “Peace be with you.” In the aftermath of the awful spectacle of the crucifixion, you might think that “peace” would be the last thing on the disciples’ minds. But I think that they were so amazed by the message of peace from the risen Jesus that they could only think to stay in Jerusalem - the City of Peace - where they first understood what peace really meant. For them, it meant no more fear. It meant confidence in God’s abiding presence among them. It meant feeling safe and secure even when others might have been hostile toward them. It meant boldness to preach the gospel. They discovered peace in Jerusalem, so how fitting it is that their proclamation of peace should go out from Jerusalem - the City of Peace.

 

But now how heartbreaking it is to see that, yet again, that the City of Peace has become anything but. And what’s worse, if you’re a student of history and have followed the Israel-Palestine conflict over the years, then you probably know how it seems like an impossible situation. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you said that you don’t know how to make sense of it all or if it’s even your place to try to make sense of it all. Because it’s their problem so let them sort it out. I’ve had that thought on more than one occasion. 

 

But I’m reminded of a conversation I had once with Fr. Jude, one of the monks at the monastery I lived in a number of years ago. Every day at the daily Eucharist, during the prayers, Fr. Jude would pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Every single day, no matter what the news may have been. He prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. It took me a few years before I asked him why he was so keen to pray specifically for the peace of Jerusalem, but his response was striking. 

He began by reminding me of psalm 122, and if you’re not familiar with psalm 122, it starts off with the rather famous line, 

 

“I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

 

And then the psalm goes on to say, 

 

For the peace of Jerusalem pray, “May they prosper, those who love you.”May peace abide in your walls, in your palaces, peace.

For the sake of my family and friends, let me say, “Peace upon you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD, our God, I will seek good things for you.

 

Fr. Jude took those words and that exhortation to heart. But then he said, “Why shouldn’t I pray for the peace of Jerusalem? It stands for all of us.” It stands for all of us. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Fr. Jude was right. 

 

Because if we are honest, then I think we’d all have to admit that in our own lives, there are situations and circumstances that are so tied up or bogged down in layer upon layer of conflict that there are times when it just doesn’t seem like there’s much point in trying to sort through it all. Much as we’d like to live in peace, sometimes things just seem so out of control that there’s little hope of ever finding a lasting peace. But we hang on and persist in praying for peace because sometimes that’s literally all we can do. Not lose hope that God is able to bring order to the chaos of our lives and bring us to that long sought-after place of peace. In that sense, Jerusalem does stand for all of us. 

 

So if you are aware of what’s going on right now in Israel and Palestine, no matter what your thoughts are about the conflict, I beg you to pray for peace. Not just for the violence to stop but for there to be a genuine peace. And even if you aren’t aware of what’s going on - or don’t really want to know - I still beg you to pray for peace. Because Jerusalem stands for all of us. It stands as a reminder that amid all the ugliness of resentment and blame and destructive repercussions in the world, there is still the hope of peace. 

 

I think our Lord was speaking of this hope when he offered up his prayer to God on our behalf. If you recall, he did not ask God to take us out of the world. He knew that we would continue to live in a world where conflict and strife are commonplace. Instead, he asked God to protect us from evil; to protect us from resignation and despair in the face of what seems to be an unending struggle. And he prayed that we would be guarded from evil as we go out into the world to proclaim God’s message of peace. I believe that God heard his prayer, and that is why I think we can pray with that same hope - even when it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams.   

 

So pray for the peace of Jerusalem. God save us. 

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