Sunday, May 12th, 2024

The Gift of Togetherness

Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Today is the 7th Sunday of Easter. Seven weeks of me finally remembering to start my sermons with the Easter Acclamation. Seven weeks of singing “this is the feast” for those of you who are waiting to go back to setting 3 next week. Seven Sundays of celebration. 7 weeks long. A week of weeks. 7 is an important number in the scriptures. Traces it all the way back to creation. God created the world in six days, and on the 7th day he rested. And that number 7 became a significant a symbol of wholeness and completion throughout the church. Book of Revelation tells us there’s seven churches that the letters are sent to. It’s a symbol of the whole church, not just a message to those seven congregations, but to all Christians. Peter asked how many times must I forgive my brother? 7 times? Jesus says No 7 times 7 times10. It’s a number of fullness. The Sabbath was instituted at Mount Sinai as part of the framework for how God wanted His people to live. That 7th day. That they have rest. But I’ve probably told you before, I don’t remember if it was in a sermon or if it was in a Bible class that the Sabbath for Israel, that 7th day, it was more than just one day. It was more than just one Sabbath. There was the weekly Sabbath, in recognition of God resting on the 7th day of creation, but there was also a Sabbath year. Just as the people were given rest from their work on the 7th day of a week, the land itself was given rest from planting and from harvesting every 7th year. The Israelites wouldn’t plant any crops. They wouldn’t harvest any crops. They wouldn’t prune their fields. They wouldn’t trim their bushes. They wouldn’t cultivate the land in any way. They would just eat  what the land produced. People and animals would survive, on whatever the land grew on its own, the land got a year of Sabbath rest. And then there was the Year of Jubilee. Every 7th, 7th year. Every 7th Sabbath year, there was a time of Jubilee in the Land of Israel. It began on the Day of Atonement. The significant thing about it was that for the Israelites, all debt was forgiven. Any Israelite who had to indenture himself to make money for his family, was to be returned to his land, to have his debt wiped away.  Any land that was sold by one Israelite to another Israelite was returned to its original family, the family that it had been assigned to in the days of Joshua. Because ultimately, this land belongs to God. And the Israelites simply worked it as his people. God’s goal in all of this was to shape the Israelite’s identity. To shape the way that they saw themselves, how they understood their place as his people, and how they understood their relationships with each other. God wanted them to see themselves as people redeemed from Egypt. They were his first born. So, part of the instructions of the very first Passover was, from that day forward, the Passover would be the start of the year for the Israelites. They would always see themselves as the delivered people. And they’d always be reminded that this land in which they lived was theirs as a gift. It was theirs as an inheritance. That’s what the Book of Joshua calls it. And the way that they lived in that land would change the way that they live with each other. You see, it’s always hard to ask for help, but it’s a bit easier if you know that there’s a reset coming. If you know that in the end of 50 years the land will be returned to the original family, all your debts will be wiped out. It made the Israelites willing to help each other, knowing that that help was always going to be temporary. You were always leasing the land from someone, not just buying it from them. God wanted Israel to live as a community, to see themselves as the gathered people of God, not just some random collection of individuals. God’s family. God’s people. And of course, all of it points forward to Jesus. When the disciples of John asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, Jesus answered by saying that he is proclaiming the good news to the poor, he’s giving sight to the blind, and he’s proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. That’s the language of Jubilee. Jesus says that his arrival is the Jubilee. Jesus came to cancel all debts. Jesus came to fix and restore all relationships. Jesus came to hit the reset button between the people and God. What he said in today’s gospel reading. He prays to his Father. Lord, “keep them in your name… that they may be one, even as we are one.” A prayer for unity. The unity of God’s people. A unity found in the name of Jesus, a name which we all share. The unity found in the forgiveness of sins. For all of us have had our debts cancelled. All of us have had our sin forgiven. All of us have had our relationship with God restored. And now our relationship here with each other, this gift of community and the church, is redefined through him. We are all one as Jesus and the Father are one. It’s not a unity of race. It’s not a unity of politics. It’s not a unity simply of geography, because we all happen to live near each other. And it’s not simply a gathering of like-minded people who enjoy singing the same type of music. We are united in something far more significant. We are united in the name of Christ. Baptized into that name. Adopted into the family of God. As we heard a few weeks ago, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Joined to each other every time that we are joined to him at this altar, feasting on his body and his blood for the forgiveness of our sins, being united to our Lord. And being united to everyone else who is united to our Lord. The gift of togetherness. The gift of knowing we don’t journey through this life alone. We are never alone. We know that Jesus is always with us. That’s one of the gifts of the Ascension. Jesus ascended far above all heavens, Paul tells us, in order that he might fill all things. Your Lord is with you. Your Lord walks with you wherever you go, where you are united to His name. The gift of the Ascension is that Jesus is with you wherever you may be. But we also know that we’re not alone, because we have other people in this room with us. Other people united to the name of Jesus. We are all united to each other. We pray for one another. We pray for one another in times of hardship. We cry with one another. We celebrate with one another. We visit each other when times are difficult. We help each other when we are in need. We celebrate with each other. We rejoiced with each other. We are united together in the name of Jesus. The Israelites were given the gift of a year of Jubilee, a year of having everything reset so they could continue to live at peace with one another. In this Church, the Church of our Lord, every year is for us a year of Jubilee. Every day is a day that we start fresh in the name of Jesus. So, where there is division among us, let us repent and embrace reconciliation. Where we have tried to go our own way, have tried to make ourselves an island, let us repent and be joined with the body of Christ. Let us live in the name of Jesus. That’s who we already are in him. Claimed as his people. Set forth, sanctified in his truth and sent into the world to proclaim that truth, to proclaim that hope into the people we meet. May such a proclamation be part of our lives in Jesus’ name every day.  Amen.