After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." -John 17:1-11
Raymond Brown calls the prayer that ends Jesus farewell speech “one of the most majestic moments” in the Fourth Gospel, wondering whether it might have come from the same source within the Johannine Church as the Prologue. (p.744-5 Gospel According to John, vol. 2, Anchor Bible, Doubleday). Because the prayer evokes such a strong Easter sensibility, some imagine it might have been part of the disciple's experience of Jesus during the forty days before the Ascension. But the church offers this prayer* to share with one another in this time of dazzling darkness between the Ascension and Pentecost. On behalf of the disciples Jesus asks for union with the Divine and with one another, for a radical indwelling of God in us, and for our glorification, and that “they may be one as we are one” (vs.11). Because of this, Bruno Barnhardt calls the prayer “the consecration of the new temple.” That is, we are the new temple - you and I together - the ragged, distractable, well-meaning but hopelessly flawed people of the body of Christ.
The meditation prompts this week asks you consider surrendering in dark faith toward a deeper conversion, to a vocation to holiness (meditation one) a humble asking to be “fit for love” (meditation two). Thus purified, the last, most dangerous conversion, opens the heart toward universal love (meditation three).
from me to you within the dazzling darkness, Suzanne
*The prayer is divided into three parts for the three liturgical cycles: Year A John 17:1-11 Year B John 17: 6-19 Year C John 17: 20-26
But do read the whole prayer (chapter 17) for your personal meditation!
Meditation One (introit) other-worldly falling in love Religious conversion is being grasped by ultimate concern. It is other-worldly falling in love. It is total and permanent self-surrender without conditions, qualifications, reservations. But it is such a surrender, not as an act, but as a dynamic state that is prior to and principle of subsequent acts. It is revealed in retrospect as an under-tow of existential consciousness, as a fated acceptance of a vocation to holiness, as perhaps an increasing simplicity and passivity in prayer. It is interpreted differently in the context of different religious traditions. For Christians it is God's love flooding our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us. It is the gift of grace...
Of this inward demand and this invitation, and also because the creature lifts itself up and offers itself, and all that it can do, and yet can neither attain nor acquire the unity - of these things spring a ghostly pain. When the inmost part of the heart and the source of life have been wounded by love, and one cannot obtain that which one desires above all things, but must ever abide where one does not wish to be: from these two things pain comes forth. Here Christ is risen to the zenith of the conscience, and He sends His Divine rays into the hungry desires and into the longings of the heart; and this splendour burns and dries up and consumes all the moisture, that is, the strength and the powers of nature. The desire of the open heart, and the shining of the Divine rays, cause a perpetual pain.
-John Ruysbroeck The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage Chapter XXIII
(The mystic) would say that his long-sought correspondence with Transcendental Reality, his union with God, has now been finally established: that his self, though intact, is wholly penetrated - as a sponge by the sea - by the Ocean of Life and Love to which he has attained. "I live, yet not I but God in me." He is conscious that he is now at length cleansed of the last stains of separation, and has become, in a mysterious manner, "that which he beholds."
-Evelyn Underhill Mysticism
Ascension Dome, Italian Mosaic Artist, 1150, San Marco, Venice
Meditation Two (insight) holy lover of my soul Ah, Lord God, thou holy lover of my soul, when thou comest into my soul, all that is within me shall rejoice. Thou art my glory and the exultation of my heart; thou art my hope and refuge in the day of my trouble. Set me free from all evil passions, and heal my heart of all inordinate affections; that being inwardly cured and thoroughly cleansed, I may be made fit to love, courageous to suffer, steady to persevere. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing more courageous, nothing fuller nor better in heaven and earth; because love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, above all created things. Let me love thee more than myself, nor love myself but for thee; and in thee all that truly love thee, as the law of love commandeth, shining out from thyself. Amen
-Thomas a Kempis 1380-1471 from the Oxford Book of Prayer
Meditation Three (integration) universal love Love is invisible, but it is the most powerful force in human nature. Jesus spoke of the Spirit which he would send as Truth but also as Love. "If anyone loves me, my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him." This is the love, the prema and bhakti, which was proclaimed in the Bhagavad Gita, the compassion (karuna) of Buddha, the rapturous love of the Sufi saints.
Ultimately a religion is tested by its capacity to waken love in its followers, and, what is perhaps more difficult, to extend that love to all humanity. In the past religions have tended to confine their love to their own followers, but always there has been a movement to break through these barriers and attain to a universal love.
-Bede Griffiths 1906-1993 Universal Wisdom quoted from Pathways to Peace
The Last Word Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
“I am the one who makes you to love; I am the one who makes you to long; I am the one, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.” -Julian of Norwich.
The 7th Sunday of Easter is the imposed pause, the anticipation of the promise, the flash of insight before the work of Pentecost begins. The church, not quite ready to be church, is asked to go deeper into love these ten days of Ascensiontide. We're asked to practice loving in dark faith, without the bodily presence of the Resurrected Christ.
Like Mary Magdalene on the first day of the week, on your personal pilgrimage toward union with the divine you go to the empty place expecting nothing but find everything. Within the Dark Night of the Soul, you ache for your loss only to experience love's consummation. You grope your way, as John of the Cross writes, “with no other light than the one burning in my heart” toward that open, sunlit field “leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies” in union with God. Easter is the wedding feast, and Ascension the nuptial chamber.
The soul's practice in Ascensiontide is surrendering in dark faith to a deeper conversion, to a vocation to holiness. The Gospel text for Sunday, the “high priestly prayer” sets us up for the experience itself when it comes. In the personal journey of faith, when the dark night of the soul envelopes you, when you experience the crucifying abandonment of God, the link to this text, the habit of remembering the indwelling begged for in Jesus' prayer offers the key to the treasure of darkness. As you integrate this darkness you find the indwelling accomplished.
Ascensiontide is the most liminal time of the church year. Here you learn the the skill of loving God and uniting in community at a time of ambiguity and uncertainty and waiting.
This is such a crucial insight! This annual observance in this most liminal time of the church year invites you to practice learning the skill of loving God and uniting in community at a time of ambiguity, uncertainty, and waiting. This practice of the soul's work in Ascensiontide now, may mean later the difference between abandoning God just at the moment of integration, or embracing the unitive life.
Have a glorious meditation this Ascensiontide ! Suzanne
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Collect for the Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day American Book of Common Prayer