A Community of Prayer
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer. (Acts 1:14 ESV) Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! The community and followers of Jesus are a “praying” community. As we witness this morning the events between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost, already we see in the lives of the disciples a basic expression of our common unity – prayer. Today at International Lutheran Church, we gather with hearts united in prayer not only for ourselves but also for our world that all would know the love of the Father.
The Ascension of Jesus which occurs 40 days following the Resurrection is a culmination of the Easter season. Jesus, who came from the Father with the purpose of redeeming all people, now ascends to the right hand of God victorious and triumphant. Thus, the disciples’ question before his departure in Acts 1:6 “Lord, now will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” reveals their and sometimes our confusion about what happens next. They are reminded that what happens next is something promised long ago: the sending of the Holy Spirit to make bold the witness of the church. Yet, in this in-between time, after the Ascension and before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples must wait. But it is not empty waiting. Instead, Luke says, it was filled with prayer.
Prayer is an important part of our lives of faith. Prayer is the expression of our faith lived out in hope. The Bible is filled with many prayers of the faithful and even as we read in the Gospel lesson today from John 17, the very heart of Jesus expressed to the Father and the unity of their own relationship. At this point the prayers of the disciples seem to focus on the very important matter of filling Judas’ empty place. His share in the ministry must not be neglected but lived out by one who had witnessed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from His baptism in the Jordan to His ascension on the Mount of Olives. While two candidates fill the requirements, only the Lord knows the heart of all. So, the disciples turn to God in prayer as the fulfillment of Jesus’ own prayer – that the oneness witnessed in the Godhead would lead to a testimony of both the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for the Father, but also that this love is a shared love with the world that is estranged from God and one another.
We tend to see this aspect — the estrangement of people — more often than our common unity. Our inhumanity tends to always have a way of bursting forth in a grotesque way whether that is in the senseless actions of one individual in a little town in Texas or the coordinated war among nations and people who themselves claim to be kin. Our sin and the painful reality of its consequences does not die easily. What are we to do? We continue to be what Jesus has made us to be: a praying community of faith. What else can we do but pray as our Lord prayed? We turn to God to seek His will and direction for our life, or perhaps to entreat His mercy in a particular situation that we face personally or collectively. This wasn’t the last time the disciples came together with one accord and prayed to the Lord in Acts as the Body of Christ (Acts 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 15:25). We pray for one another but we also prayer for our world that still does not know and has not experienced the good news that Christ gave His life for us all. This is the ministry that is a shared ministry, an allotted ministry — to live out in word and deed what God has done for us in sending Jesus.
Today, we remain a community of prayer and find our common unity in the One whose death and resurrection has restored and re-united us with the Father. Alleluia! He is risen, indeed!