ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26; PSALM 1; 1 JOHN 5:9-13; JOHN 17:6-19
This week we mark the ascension of Christ into heaven. It falls in the church calendar right before Pentecost and we hardly ever notice it. Jesus speaks to his disciples again (Acts 1:4-11). After hearing this, the disciples go back to Jerusalem and do what? (They pray, they talk about Judas, they decide to elect a twelfth disciple.) The election of a twelfth is important because they were correlating the twelve apostles with the twelve tribes of Israel.
So they pray and come up with two names: Joseph-Barsabbas-Justus and Matthias. Then they essentially roll some dice or draw straws to confirm their selection. This was not that unusual at that time- remember the sailors casting lots to discover that Jonah was to blame for the storm at sea? The lots confirmed for the believers how they believed God was guiding them. They were leaning toward Matthias and the lots confirmed that choice.
Before the selection, however, how did they come up with the two choices? They looked at the men who had been with Jesus and with them, from the time of Jesus’ baptism through to the witnessing of the resurrection. That last part was crucial. They didn’t want someone who had witnessed most of the miracles or the teachings. The apostles knew that the witness and experience of the resurrection was crucial to the ability to minister to other people.
That’s something for us to think about: a witness to the resurrection, to the power of the risen Jesus, is crucial to the ability to minister to other people. After all, that is what brings us here. Beyond our parents or our grandparents, our habits, our social needs or anything else, the experience we have had with Jesus- the One who and the One who is to come- is what brings us back to this place, to be nourished and fed and what sends us back into the world.
This is even what Jesus is praying for his disciples and for us in today’s Gospel lesson. He asks the Father to sanctify us in truth, to make us holy through the reality that only comes from the Word that is with God and is God. That resurrected Word offers conviction, consolation and healing.
Healing. Ultimately, when we pray for one another- we are asking for a renewal of the experience of the resurrection and the joy of salvation. We long to see the restoration of the body and the return to life, as we’ve known it. However, life as we know it is not always God’s desire for us. God longs to sanctify us in truth, to make us more than we are and more than we thought we could be.
When we look to the resurrection and to one another as witnesses to that miracle, we are also looking to the God of unexpectedness and mysteriousness. The disciples chose Matthias to complete the twelve and believed that choice to be the will of God. How many of you know anything about Matthias beyond today’s story? Church history says he may have been a missionary to Ethiopia and what may be his remains rest in Germany today.
The disciples believed they knew God’s will and selected a reasonable candidate to fill their ranks- a man who had experienced Jesus as they understood Him, from beginning to beginning, baptism to resurrection. However, God completed the ranks of the apostles through calling Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul. Paul’s experience of the resurrection was a completely different witness, overcoming him in the middle of his intense opposition to Christianity- the risen Christ knocked him from his mount, turned his day into night and set him off in a completely new direction. Paul never got over it and neither did the message of Christ to the world. Sometimes witnesses to the resurrection don’t fit the mold we expect, the stories we know or the experiences that we have had.
And so, when we pray for one another for healing and restoration, we must keep this in mind. The healing may not look like what we desire. The restoration may not meet our checklist of requirements. It may not come in a time frame that we desire or in through the means we choose.
Yet, the resurrection experience comes to those who seek it and to those who are not expecting it. Healing does as well. We are called to be with one another, to pray for one another and share our experiences of resurrection with one another. We are called to ask for experiences of the resurrection for one another. This is how we are apostles and disciples to each other today. In the mutual caring of one another, God reveals His truth and we share together in the miracles that come through life daily- miracles of physical restoration, miracles of peaceful deaths, miracles of intensely shared pain, miracles of grief survived, miracles of quiet hope and faith.
Together we seek God’s will, we pray for healing, we share our faith. Together we proclaim, “Christ is risen.” (He is risen indeed.) Believing that, together we are witnesses to the resurrection- yesterday, today and forever.