Sermon on St. John 16:23-30
Easter V (Rogate)
29 May 2011
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Today is the Fifth Sunday after Easter. Since it is the last Sunday with the name “Easter” in its title, today more or less brings our celebration of the Easter season to a close. Of course, the resurrection permeates every Sunday of the church year, and arguably every day of our life. The Lord’s Supper for the Lord’s Day; the Lord’s new life for every day of our life. But the special Easter customs – the Paschal Candle, the Easter hymns, and the Proper Preface for Easter – largely end today. So what do we do? How do we prepare for the Ascension? We pray. It is Rogate or “Pray Ye” Sunday, a day to transition out of the Easter season, to reach out toward the next portion of the church year, and to learn what it means to pray to the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit.
Prayer always deals with asking, so it is no surprise that the word “ask” is a key word in today’s Gospel lesson. However, at first hearing, there appears to be a contradiction. On the one hand, Jesus says, “In that day you will ask nothing of Me.” On the other hand, He immediately follows those words with the promise, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” So do we ask God or do we not ask God? Though not evident in English, there are two different words in the original language of the New Testament for “ask.” One means to ask for information. The other means to ask for a gift. Think about the difference! One usually asks for information out of ignorance – when you’re lost in Yonkers, perhaps. But one usually asks for a gift out of grace, i.e., the good news that the person you are asking is kind and gracious. So Jesus says here, in effect, “In the day that I am lording my death and resurrection over all creation, you will not ask me for information out of ignorance, for you will understand that I went to the cross to die your death. Rather, in that day, you will ask the Father for all the gifts of the Gospel. And whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”
So it is for us! Our Christian faith and life is more about asking the Father for His gifts than asking for information. Oh, we sometimes ask for information, especially when we don’t understand something in the Scriptures or in a sermon. But the heart of the matter is asking God the Father for His gifts with the understanding that He gives those gifts through Christ. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father.” God is our heavenly Father in Christ. The Son of God is the only perfect Son in our baptismal family. But as the baptized children of God, we have full access to the Father; not as our personal right, but as a Divine gift won by Jesus’ death and confirmed by His resurrection. And so we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and all the other prayers in our lives that flow from the Lord’s Prayer, asking God the Father for all of His gifts: His name and kingdom, His will and our daily bread, His forgiveness and final deliverance, and much more. And even without our prayer, He freely gives, we receive by faith, and our joy is full.
So rogate, Dearly Beloved – Pray ye to the Father, knowing that He is our true Father and we are His true children. And we may, with all boldness and confidence, ask Him for all the gifts of salvation in Christ.
Since every word of Christian prayer is written in Jesus’ shed blood, Jesus then began to speak more plainly about His hour of suffering and death. “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” Jesus often spoke in parables (an extended figure of speech), but that is not what Jesus is talking about here. After all, there are no parables in John’s Gospel! Rather, the point here is that up until now, Jesus had concealed the word of the cross in figures of speech. For example, He once described His death as a kernel that falls to the ground and dies. But now, as He was about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, He changed from figures of speech to straight talk. “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” The movement of Christ in John’s Gospel is from the Father (incarnation), through the cross (atonement), and back to the Father (ascension). And Christ cannot return to His Father empty-handed. Rather, He must accomplish salvation by His death, rise from the dead to proclaim the victory of the cross, and return to the Father as the triumphant Son of God. So the hour had come for plain talk about the cross, and it was good news for all who heard it in faith.
See what comfort this is for you! Since the Son of God defeated death for you and conquered the powers of hell, you can ask anything in Jesus’ name. “In that day you will ask [for a gift] in my name.” “In that day,” i.e., in this era between the ascension and the second coming, you will ask the Lord Christ for all His gifts of salvation. And He loves you so much, so concretely and personally, that He will give you His forgiveness and eternal salvation, even without your prayer. Yet He commands you to pray to Him anyway, knowing that because Christ is your Great High Priest, your prayers are heard by Him and His gifts are certain. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than the very next chapter of John’s Gospel (chapter 17). “When Jesus had spoken [His Farewell Discourse], He lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (17:1). The ‘hour’ in John’s Gospel is the hour or time or Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins. Up until now, His hour had been on hold, waiting for a series of miracles that proved He was the Son of God, along with the teaching that builds on those miracles. But now that He had spoken plainly about His death, the hour had come for the glory of the cross.
So rogate, Dearly Beloved! Pray in the name of Him who prayed for His disciples on the night of His betrayal, who prayed for His own murderers, and who ever stands before God the Father as your great High Priest. And pray with the confidence that because Christ has gone into heaven before us, our prayers rush in where angels fear to tread – to the very throne of God.
And how did Jesus’ disciples respond to this good news about prayer? “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!” The figurative speech sometimes concealed the word of the cross from the unbelievers. It also gave the disciples time to process Jesus’ miracles and to prepare for the biggest miracle of them all on Easter Sunday. But when it came to the hour of betrayal, Jesus’ plain talk about His person and work convinced the disciples that He had indeed come from God. But to believe in the Son of God is to live one’s life under the cross and suffering, yes, to take up one’s cross and follow Him, even unto death. No wonder Jesus said, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.” Jesus’ “hour” is the climax in the drama of salvation. Yet in spite of the cross of suffering for Jesus and His disciples, they had the peace that passes understanding. Jesus had overcome the world. And He would rise from the dead and say, “Peace be with you” on Easter Sunday. He would send the Holy Spirit to abide with them forever, even to the final resurrection of all flesh.
So it is for us. There’s much to be said here about how post-Easter preaching (starting with Pentecost in Acts 2) is not the time for stories or sermon illustrations. Jesus makes it quite clear that His figurative speeches were preparatory for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Post-Easter preaching is the preached Word of Law and Gospel. But that is secondary here. What’s primary is the need to pray again the world and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Like the disciples, we live in the world. We are surrounded by sin, which infects every part of our lives and tempts us to forsake the faith. We are assaulted by the devil, who prowls around as a roaring lion, baiting us with his temptations and desperately trying to trap us as his prey. And we daily war against our own sinful flesh, which leads us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. What to do? Pray against the world. Yes, pray against the sinful ways of the world. A church father named Athanasius, namesake of the Athanasian Creed, had the following words inscribed on his tombstone: “Athanasius against the world” (Athanasius contra mundum). You are in the world, but not of the world. Through the Holy Spirit, you know Christ. He abides in you through the means of grace. A splash of baptismal water. The word of absolution. A table set with His true body and blood. You abide in Him through faith. And it’s all possible through the Holy Spirit, the One who delivers all the gifts of the Trinity to you and teaches you to pray aright.
So rogate, Dearly Beloved! Pray by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who stands alongside you to bless, to comfort, and to keep. Envelop your entire Christian life in prayer, the Divine speech that expresses our fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And so today, as the Easter season draws to a close, we reach out toward the Ascension. The second half of today’s Gradual quotes from the Farewell Discourse: “I came forth from the Father and am come into the world: again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (Jn 16:28). The sorrow first felt by the disciples when the Lord announced His imminent departure is giving place to a new joy that drowns out all thought of sorrow in everlasting joy that only Christ can give. Our Lord is about to return to heaven as our own Blood Brother, as our Great High Priest, and as our Representative before the Father. In view of this good news, Rogate! Pray ye! Commit all your concerns, worries, and fears to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. And the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit will abide with you, now and forevermore.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev. Brian Hamer