The Wednesday Devotion returns after a problem last week while traveling. I apologize to those who check in regularly that the devotion was not there last week. This week, we return with a look at the readings for Easter 7 in the One-Year Lectionary. Ezekiel 36:22-28, 1 Peter 4:7-11 (12-14), and John 15:26-16:4.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you” (John 15:26-16:4 ESV).
Last week on Thursday was Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. During this liturgy, the Christ candle is extinguished as the passage concerning Christ’s Ascension is read. It’s a bit jarring. He’s gone, ascended on high, and seemingly far off. However, at the end of the service, one of the pastors returns to the sanctuary and relights the Christ candle. The passages for Easter 7 seem to reflect in some ways this idea that the liturgical tradition conveys: Christ is ascended, but not really gone from us. Yet, the fact that He is no longer on earth changes things.
In John 15 & 16, Jesus is speaking with the apostles before His death. He promises them two things: The world will come after them. It will kill them because of Him. It will drive them out of the places of worship. But He prefaces this promise with a better one: The Holy Spirit, the Helper, will be with them through all of this. Ezekiel and 1 Peter echo similar situations. There will be fiery trials. There will be death and fear. He did not tell them this from the beginning, because He was with them, but now that He is about to go to His death, resurrection, and ascension, He prepares them for this certain eventuality.
The apostles experienced this as one by one they were brought to harm for proclaiming the Name of Christ: mocked, driven out, crucified upside down, flayed, imprisoned, beheaded, stoned, and more. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world experience persecution for confessing Christ’s name, as well. They face financial difficulty. They are ridiculed and mocked, cast out of their homes or flee for safety, they are imprisoned and killed.
We may also face such persecution simply for confessing the Name of Christ. Perhaps it comes in not quite so threatening forms, but yet it comes. Alienation at work from colleagues who can’t understand you and your faith, and so keep their distance. Mocking and taunts — “only idiots believe that. Religion is just a prop.” In schools and in the media, our faith and the basic tenets of our belief are mocked, ridiculed and railed against or subtly undermined by linguistics and science. Our livelihoods are threatened when we stand up for our beliefs.
And where is Jesus? Far off. Ascended. Stuck? Thanks be to God, that Christ’s Ascension to the right hand of God is not a removal from us, but FOR us. How? The right hand of God is God’s hand of grace and mercy. It is present in all things and works in this world. Christ, then, though ascended, is with us and at work in this world even as He is at work in heaven. Before the Father He confesses us and intercedes for us in our struggles and trials. In the world, He comes to strengthen and preserve us in Word and Sacrament, He sends His Holy Spirit to comfort and protect us. Yahweh Himself acts: “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24, ESV). So don’t be surprised when the world comes after you (1 Peter 4:12), but cling to this: Christ suffered once for all, and as we share in those sufferings, we also share in His glory yet to be revealed. His Spirit rests upon us, and we are His (1 Peter 4:13-14).
Let us pray: O Holy Spirit, Helper and Comforter, strengthen us for the trials of this life, comfort us in our afflictions, and grant us to stand firm in the faith so that we may at last see Christ’s glory fully revealed; for You live and reign with the Father and the Son, one God, now and forever. Amen.
- Pray for all those who are persecuted, that they may stand firm in the faith.
- Check out the June/July issue of The Lutheran Witness, which is focused on persecution.