Topic: Biblical Verse: John 17:20–17:26
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 17:20-26; Rev. 22:6-20
This is a world that knows war. In one form or another, war continues on as battles are waged across this planet: defeats and victories keep coming. There are forces out there that want nothing less than to see everyone and everything at their feet, under their power. There are no neutral countries, really, as agents are daily at work to undermine authority and build fear and distrust wherever they can. And you and I are members of a nation that is under assault. Our enemies despise the freedom that we enjoy. They have their sights set on each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter if you are a man, woman, or child: you are a target. The dark forces that are out to get you cannot be appeased; they cannot be placated. They will not rest until you are either enslaved or dead. You need a guardian.
In this world that’s so full of trouble, where real threats rise up to endanger lives and disrupt peace, the military can serve an important function. Properly used, the military employs tactics and strategy while exercising the many tools at their disposal to hold back those forces that would do harm to others. They stand against the powers that would attempt to take the world for themselves. Armed forces can promote stability and peace as they deter the would-be bully or conqueror. They are part of God the Father’s First Article gifts, those means which He provides for the care and protection of His people. They can be very effective guardians.
But war in this world isn’t limited to the physical or psychological battlefield. God’s word and our own experience have shown us that there are spiritual battles being waged around us every day. And sometimes, the forces behind spiritual assaults mount physical attacks, too. We are members of a nation under assault, but I’m not talking about the United States: as members of the Christian Church, you and I are right in the enemy’s line of fire. The devil resents the freedom which you have through Jesus, and he won’t stop attacking until you’re back under his control. Those times each day that you’re tempted – sometimes with great subtlety – to just do whatever you want without thinking about God or anyone else? Those are ambushes, battles where your life is on the line. And the devil isn’t acting alone. He’s got allies all over the world – there’s even the double-agent that’s working inside your heart and mind whose codename is “sin.” You’ve heard their propaganda: “Do what’s right in your own eyes. You’re not free when you don’t have what you want. Don’t be content with your looks, your car, your work, your spouse, your anything!” They’re firing shots at you every hour of every day. You need a guardian, someone who can deal with those enemies and their evil plans.
Our country knows the blessing of guardians in the form of our armed forces. As we celebrate Armed Forces Sunday this weekend, we give thanks to God for all those men and women have served and continue to serve to defend our nation. These people step forward to be members of our military, working at home and far overseas to protect the well being of many. They act to guard families and friends here and complete strangers in foreign lands. There’s an especially amazing aspect to our armed forces: they work to protect life and freedom for all the people they serve, even for the unworthy and the openly hostile.
We have a guardian, one who is infinitely more powerful than even our country’s armed forces. In our Gospel lesson today, we hear Jesus praying what is often called his high priestly prayer. He is the priest who comes before God on behalf of his people: for the disciples then on that night before his arrest and execution, and also for all those who would believe through the disciples’ word – for you and me today. Jesus is our guardian and our commander-in-chief. We follow him. But Jesus doesn’t go into battle taking his troops with him for support. He goes alone, without reinforcements. And alone, he goes to the cross, for it is there that the definitive battle of the war would be won. The enemy thought that would find their greatest victory there when the Son of God would be nailed to the wood of the cross and die – but instead, that assumed victory turned into an epic defeat. But the astounding truth is that Jesus went to the cross for the openly hostile, for the unworthy, for the rebellious. He went to the cross for us: for us people who act as if we believe the world’s propaganda, who continue to lose battle after battle as we give into temptation. Being tempted is not a sin; choosing to follow temptation is. He went to the cross to take on the full force of the enemy’s assault to keep it from destroying us. In the cross of Christ, we know victory.
This is the time in-between. Specifically, this weekend falls in between Ascension and Pentecost, forty and fifty days after Easter, respectively. The disciples spent that time in Jerusalem, worshiping God and praying. They waited for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, that he would send the Paraclete, God the Holy Spirit. And through the Spirit, Jesus would send his disciples out into a world that does not know him and is actively hostile towards his people. Those who serve in our armed forces are very familiar with the time in-between: there may be time between engagements and actions, but there’s also the time in-between the present and when the can go home. This weekend, we also give thanks to God for the chaplains who provide spiritual care and comfort for those men and women while they are away from their homes, in the midst of all the dangers to body and soul that bear down on them. Figuratively, this is the time in-between for us as we wait for the fulfillment of Jesus’ return on the Last Day, the return of the Messiah as victor over all.
The passage that we read today from the final chapter of the Bible presents Christ as the returning victor. We saw a glimpse of his mighty power when Paul cast out the fortune-telling demon from the young woman in Philippi, and again when the Lord frees Paul and Silas from the chains and cages that had imprisoned them. Christ is our guardian, with power and authority over all. Jesus’ return from heaven and his ultimate victory over the enemies forces, all those things that would see us enslaved or dead, is the central theme of the book of Revelation. (The title of the book is singular, no “s” on the end. Look at the first verse of the book to see why.) There will be souls who are doomed to be shut out: those who choose to persist in doing what is right in their own eyes, along with all who would try to trick us with the enemy’s lies and propaganda, will be outside the victory, outside of God’s presence, for that is where they have chosen to be. But today, we continually hear our great high priest calling us, praying for us, that we would know him and the Father who sent him. Our guardian, our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord Jesus, calls us to lay the burden of our sins at his feet. Christ the victorious calls us to share in his victory.
This is the time in-between. We remain here on earth, while war continues around us – even inside us – as people under fire. Jesus has gone up to heaven, but he is still our guardian above all others. He continues to watch over us, making his Father’s name known among us. And he will come again as the great victor, at last destroying all those forces that have assaulted his people and waged war against him. For when Christ our guardian comes again, war shall be no more. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”