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Christian Living: From a Private Devotion to a Public Display of Faith

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. All of these momentous events were very public affairs as the first followers of Jesus began to form the community that we now call "the Church." Public events are important and serve a purpose. But public events are just that -- public. These events are on display for people to watch. They are watching not only the event itself, but also other people's reaction to it. At these events there isn't a lot of room for personal expression of thought or feeling. And with a lot of people around, who may not be part of the events inner circle, there's a lot of stuff that we may just not want to say.

Over the last seven weeks, the Gospel lessons have taken us through these very public events, as we remember Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. On Thursday night, we celebrated the Ascension, and now we await the day of Pentecost next Sunday, the real beginning of the church's service in and to the world. It is at these public events where we spend the time to be together, to share and strengthen ourselves, within the inner circle of Jesus and His disciples.

This short period is somewhat more private and quiet. It is the moment of reset that the Church has between its public actions. It is meant to be a time not wasted. If we read Acts straight through, we will notice that the time between Ascension and Pentecost was used for the very important tasks of planning and organizing. But that isn’t the only way, or even the most important way, the Church spends its quiet private time.

Today’s Gospel also recalls a quiet private time that Jesus had with His closest friends. We usually think of this Gospel as part of the “farewell discourse” in the Fourth Gospel. But if we only think about it in the context of the Last Supper, we’re cheating ourselves. There’s much more to it then that.

In this story, we see a small group of close friends gathering around a table for a meal to show their love and thankfulness for one another. In private, Jesus who is their Leader, their Master, their Teacher and their Lord tells His followers how thankful He is for them.

He expresses His confidence that the disciples will be faithful in doing the work He has given them. And Jesus lets them know how eager He is for all of them to be together again. Together they share bread, wine, conversation and love.

As this small group spends a quiet private time together they are encouraged and renewed for their next public event; which is Christian service to the world. But even this quiet private moment is neither between public events nor for us alone. It has meaning and purpose. Jesus reminds us that through His disciples - through us - the world will come to know God. This means that we are an important part of God's plan of Love and Salvation, and it's during these private times that we learn to be the bearers of God's Good News through Jesus Christ.

It is significant that these words take place in the context of a meal. Learning to be faithful witnesses of God's Love is a lot like learning table manners: it takes place among those we know and love and it requires constant practice until it becomes second nature for us. Like table manners, Christian living is also practiced within a family, the Church family.

If these table manners are made second nature and are authentic expressions of our faith then they will not be regarded as a sham or insincere. It is only after we learn how to act properly that we are ready to go in public. Our beliefs and actions, as Christians who are also participants in a wider society, must be consistent. Otherwise, the rest of the world will brand us as hypocrites, and rightly so.

In those quieter, private times, Jesus calls us - His close friends - to be with Him at His table. Jesus invites us to share bread and wine, and conversation. As we come together to share this meal with Jesus, He gives thanks. He gives thanks for us; thanksgiving for the people that God has given to Him and through whose words and actions others will ultimately come to believe in Him. Jesus also tells us that He is confident that we will continue the work He has given us and that we will go forth into the world and do that work well and faithfully.

At this family table we are taught the correct approach to Christian living. The approach is to learn through fellowship and live by example in both our beliefs and actions. This will make us credible witnesses of our Lord.

Can you imagine the gathering of this scruffy group of followers, which included fishermen and tax collectors following Jesus around the Judean countryside so many years ago? Like them, we still need that time which falls between Ascension and Pentecost - to come together as his close friends.

It would be a time to plan, but also, and perhaps most importantly, a time for us to simply be with each other and with our Lord. Time to be thankful for each other's ministries, lives, and love for one another. Time to know Jesus is thankful for us, the people whom the Father has given to Him.

We need to hear Jesus' words, and enjoy his loving presence among us. Most of all, we need to come to the table where He has invited us to share a meal - bread, wine, conversation and love. It is here where we learn how to be bearers of that nourishment, communication, and care to a hurting and confused world.

Today we prepare for Pentecost, the launching of the Church's public life. At the first Pentecost, God's love overflowed the disciples to the point where they were able to make the message of Jesus' saving power understood to everyone. It was credible, because they let God's glory and not there own shine through. The world longs for the Love of God in Jesus Christ; we can hardly look around us and doubt that. But if we have not practiced Christian living until it is our second nature, the world will reject our invitation to God's feast of merciful love.

When Christians - either individually or as the whole Church - use their faith wisely, God's love will prevail. When we use our religion as a weapon to exclude or judge others, the message gets obscured and rejected because it is inconsistent. Even in today's so-called secular culture, most people have at least an outline of what biblical Christianity stands for. When Christians fail to live lovingly, it does not go unnoticed.

We need to practice our faith in the safety of the Church family, so that it becomes as natural as breathing when we go out and proclaim the love of Christ, not only with our lips but with our lives. This is where our faith is strengthened, where we learn by example and practice what it means to be Christian in the world.

Let us Pray: Eternal God, may we who share Christ's banquet be one with Him as He is one with you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Risen and Ascended Lord.


For Morning Prayer on the Sunday after Ascension Day

Published on May 27th, 2001 {Revised on May 4th, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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