5-15-15 - Sent and Sanctified

Yesterday was Ascension Day, when the church marks Jesus’ final bodily exit from this world. From this time on he would be present with his followers, as he promised, but in spirit, not flesh. He told them he was going to the Father, and early on the church developed a image of him as “seated on the right hand of the Father.”

After the activity and stress of his incarnate life, a little sitting down might have sounded good to the Son, but to spend eternity seated, even at the right hand of the Father? That’s a lot of sitting. Of course, he did have a job to do: he had promised to intercede for these followers he was launching into the world he was just leaving.

This prayer we’ve been studying this week articulates in human language Jesus’ eternal work. It is a prayer for protection, a prayer of sending, and a prayer for holiness: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

That same world he told his disciples not to become too attached to, is where he sent them. Lest they wonder why, Jesus reminds them it is to continue his mission – “As the Father sent me, so I send you…” Lest they wonder what their work was to be, it was to do anything they had seen Jesus doing: proclaiming, teaching, healing, restoring, renewing. Their passion and energy was to be spent loving the people they would encounter in the world as they had been loved: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

Lest we wonder what our apostolic mission is, there’s our answer – the same as those original apostles. We too are sent into the world to love in Jesus' name. We can be sure that his aims and desires have not changed – he still wants people to believe in him, to be united as one. And we can be sure that Jesus is interceding for us as we go about his mission.

It is both daunting and comforting to know that Jesus is praying for those who will believe in him through our word. It is daunting, because it puts the pressure on us to be sharing his word; otherwise, how will any believe? And it is comforting because it reminds us that Jesus does not send us out without equipping us for the transforming work he is doing through us.

To be sanctified is to be made holy, saint-like. Sanctification is an already/not yet proposition – we are already made holy by Jesus’ action, and we experience it gradually, as we allow the Spirit to take root in us, to transform us from the inside. As we engage in ministries of transformation for others, we are simultaneously being transformed, ever more into the likeness and stature of Christ. To borrow an expression, the plane is indeed being built as it flies.

The mantle of those apostles has passed to us. And Christ’s intercession for us continues too – maybe not in these words set down in John’s gospel, but in words that articulate the dream of God better ever imagine, with the power that answers the prayer before the words have been uttered. The power and love flow from the heavenly places to us and through us – and ultimately, will welcome us home, sanctified wholly.

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