[Ezekiel 36.24-28;] Acts 1.6-14; 1 Peter 4.12-14, 5.6-11;
O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son
Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we
beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to
strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is
gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
SOMETIMES, it is easier to gaze into the heavens than to get on
with life on earth. Eastertide's readings from 1 Peter remind us
that, although Christ is exalted with great triumph to the Kingdom
in heaven, here on earth all is not so overtly glorious.
In the words of the Lord's Prayer, God's Kingdom is still
coming. The epistle pulls no punches: Christians should not think
it strange to face fiery ordeals or a prowling adversary, lurking
in the shadows waiting to pounce. In fact, these trials offer an
opportunity to rejoice in sharing Christ's sufferings.
This is an unlikely message of resurrection joy; yet both Peter
and the collect use the word "exalt". Because God has exalted his
Son, we, who are in Christ, can pray with confidence to be exalted,
because the Holy Spirit both strengthens and exalts us.
Ezekiel's promise - radical in the historic political manoeuvres
involved and the people's change of heart - was that God would
gather his people from exile among other nations to be their God,
bringing them to their own land as God's people.
Jesus, speaking of the Spirit who would cause living water to
flow from believers' hearts (John 7.38-39), drew on Ezekiel's
promise of a new heart and spirit that would be responsive to God.
Our familiarity with the idea should not breed contempt of its
In John's chronology, Jesus's prayer - for the Father to glorify
the Son, and for those who follow him - was prayed in the shadow of
his betrayal, arrest, and death. God's promise, through Ezekiel, of
a new beginning, when people would want to be faithful, was
fulfilled less through miraculous signs and wonders than in the
day-to-day faithfulness of the vulnerable people who had been left
behind after Jesus's violent death.
Acts lists some of the early beneficiaries of this prayer by
naming the eleven, some women, Jesus's mother, and his brothers.
The fact that men and women prayed together was one new
manifestation of God's life among them, while the presence of
Jesus's siblings - previously unbelieving (John 7.5) - was
The promised new heart and new spirit were given to ordinary
people who were facing confusion and threatened with opposition, as
they came to terms with the resurrection and ascension. In God's
hands, glory and exaltation are not estranged from suffering and
trials. They can and do co-exist.
So, while this week's collect describes Jesus's departure as a
great, triumphal entry into God's Kingdom in heaven, it promptly
prays that we who are left be not comfortless. Exaltation is not
inimical to suffering or bereavement. We can forgive the disciples
for being confused, since after the potent combination of grief,
fear, doubt, and joy involved in coming to terms with the
crucifixion and resurrection, they faced the uncertainty of when
and where they would see Jesus.
His comings and goings were not under their control, until
finally he entered a cloud and disappeared for good. They were
stretched to what could feel like breaking point, and we should not
simply read back into this their later understanding of Jesus's
prayer for them.
Significantly, their response was to devote themselves to
prayer. The epistle instructs Christians to humble ourselves, not
with Uriah Heap's ingratiating obsequiousness, but in honest
recognition that, warts and all, we are under God's mighty
So Jesus's parable of the wedding banquet, with its invitation
to "move up higher" ends with: "All who exalt themselves will be
humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke
14.7-11). Only when we own our dependence on God's power can God
As we draw near to the end of Eastertide with celebration of the
Ascension of our Lord into the glory that he shared with his
Father, the daily news reminds us that, like the disciples and
Peter's readers, we live in a troubled world. If we believe that
the world is God's, and that he will strengthen us, then we can
dare to be quite specific in our prayers to be given a new spirit,
to be God's people in the world.
As I write this, headlines include kidnapped schoolgirls in
Nigeria, controversial Ukrainian elections, and fantastic insights
into the evolution of the world after the Big Bang. Prayer for
God's world remains challenging. We pray with confidence.