Scripture: John 17:20-26 NIV
Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of a journey that will take Jesus to the cross. As this holy week unfolds, we will see that the story of the Passion holds both suffering and victory. We celebrate Palm Sunday today, and remember that Jesus rode triumphantly and yet humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey. Next Sunday, on Easter, we will celebrate Jesus’ ultimate triumph, His resurrection, which is His victory over sin and death. The bridge between these two remarkable triumphs, however, was marked with great suffering.
Our Scripture today is taken from John 17 which contains Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In this Scripture, Jesus summarizes the purpose, mission, and the end he had in mind for His work on earth. His prayer is the real starting point of the end of His walk as a human. He prays not only for his disciples but for the whole world: “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent Me.” Jesus means for His mission to be fulfilled by the faith-testimony of all believers. He shares his desire that the whole world will turn to believe in Him and become One with Himself and with the Father. Jesus’ goal, which He accomplished through victory as well as suffering is all about universal and complete unity, and by believing in Him all generations may share His glory.
Believing in Him means that we embrace in faith His words of acceptance and forgiveness, as well as His miracles. This faith makes real to us that He is the “I AM” who Moses encountered at the Burning Bush. Faith draws us closer to Him and invites us into Christ’s mission which is meant for everyone around us, even the whole world. Our relationship with Jesus moves us to share His loving presence with believers, and it attracts non-believers too. Sharing God’s love and serving one another are means by which non-believers can experience God’s love. When we accept Jesus’ call to join Him in His mission, being careful to stay in connection with Him and His purposes, we can begin to experience our call to build complete unity with Him. Thus, Jesus will use us to help the needy and also bring us together as one.
Unity is a principle that I highly value. God knows that this is one reason why I say that “I won’t get separated or divorced from anyone.” This includes the people I served in other pastoral appointments. I want to tell you about a recent event where I felt a deep unity with a former church member. Her name is Doris. Last Saturday night, I was guided by the Spirit to call Doris on the phone. We hadn’t spoken in some time, and to my surprise, she told me that Heysoon, one of her daughters, was suffering from a long-term illness, and was in the ICU in a local hospital in Washington DC. I listened to Doris’s mind and heart. Together we cried and laughed a little bit too. At the end of our conversation, I prayed for Doris and her daughter. I reminded her that she and Heysoon are firm believers and that whatever the outcome for Heysoon, be it life or death, it will be for her good and for God’s glory. As we said goodbye, Doris told me that she felt God’s peace. A few hours later, when Doris went to see Heysoon, she found that her daughter was close to passing away to heaven. When we spoke again four days ago, even though her tears, Doris professed to me that she believes in the Risen Christ. She told me that she recalled from our earlier conversation some of the words of Jesus’ prayer when He said, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.” Knowing these words are truly brought Doris the strength she needed to let her daughter go. Doris placed Heysoon in God’s loving arms, and she knows that her daughter is now enjoying Jesus and seeing His glory in all its fullness. This is because Jesus has victoriously risen from the dead, and made it possible for us to know that death is not our final destination. It may be the end of our earthly life and mission, but it is the beginning of eternal life with Jesus.
Today, we are beginning the celebrations of this special Holy Week, events characterized by suffering, but bookended with victories. Remember that Jesus is inviting us into unity, to be one with Him, with God, and one another. As we go through this week, be reminded that we are unified with Jesus in both His victories and His suffering. Believe it or not, God is using the suffering caused by COVID-19 to build unity through forgiveness and reconciliation, respect, compassion, and service for one another.
This long-term social distancing is spurring new effort and creative ways to build solidarity around us. I tell you the truth: Jesus stepped out from his Divine origin to become a human. He offered up his life on the cross. His resurrection reveals to us that death is not the end of our lives. Likewise, Corona Virus isn’t the end, it will pass, and God will bring us a new life through both our victories and our suffering.