Rogate Sunday is the last of the “-ate” Sundays. Again it lays down the notion that, so confident may we be of certain existential realities, that the Lord must command us to do them. “You have reason to be joyful, so rejoice! You have reason to sing, so sing! You have reason to ask, so ask!”
Yes, we have reason to ask. Jesus sits at God’s right hand. Our status with God has changed, from being barred by Paradise’s barred gates – those gates becoming the gates of Hades barring us in death – to Christ breaking those gates, and those gates “lifting up their heads” and opening up for the “King of glory” to come in. Now we have an intercessor with the Father, an advocate, a Son who shares His status with us.
And what does Jesus teach us about this status? “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
And here’s a crucial point about this status. Sometimes we speak as if we remain in our sins, and prayer is as if we are “sneaking into heaven” under Christ’s good name. So, God is still angry with us, but when He sees Jesus, His anger is appeased and He’s kind to us. And this is why we need to stick with Jesus and pray in His name, because this cloaks us in His righteousness.
This week’s Gospel informs us this is not exactly the case. As Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.”
Jesus is not a “holiness cloak” for us in whom we pray, but the foundation on which we stand in holiness. Jesus doesn’t pray to the Father for us, but we pray in Him. And because we stand on that foundation – believing and loving Christ – “the Father Himself loves [us].” He knows each of us perfectly well, and hears each of us pray, and sees exactly who we are; there’s no “sneaking in” under Jesus’ coattails. The Father sees us as holy, righteous, and beloved children.
Now, let’s get into some specifics about prayer. What should we pray for? Is Jesus saying whatever we ask in His name He will grant? So, if I ask for that new Cadillac, the Lord will give it to me? And, if I’ve been praying my whole life for a million dollars, in Jesus’ name, why hasn’t it happened? Is Jesus a liar?
Of course not. Jesus is not a genie in a bottle. And as St. James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
Worldly prayers are not prayers, so why would the Father even hear them? Or, if Jesus gave out the Holy Spirit to pray in us and be the object of prayer (as we’ll probe in a bit), why would we try to use Him to enable our idolatry? That makes Him jealous, as St. James says.
No, as we see above in Jesus’ little parable about the son asking his father for bread, the thing we ask for is spelled out clearly: “Your heavenly Father [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”
Prayer is for the Holy Spirit! And this prayer will always, always be answered affirmatively.
Now, recall from last week what the Holy Spirit does. He crafts by declaration, by His Word, the existential realities put in place when Jesus sat at God’s right hand and restored our status with the Father. The Holy Spirit fills our faith with that “palpable vision” – rooted in real material things – that we are truly in heaven, with Christ, surrounded by angels and archangels and all our relatives who have passed away, without tears, in complete joy. As Jesus says concluding this week’s Gospel, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
“Be of good cheer,” because He sits at God’s right hand with all authority in heaven and on earth, and He’s using this authority to bring about absolute goodness for us. This is why we can pray and “be thankful for all men” (!), as this week’s epistle says, because our Lord loves all men and wants to save all men. So no evil has the power to reign over the Lord’s intent.
So, this “palpable vision” of our existence at God’s right hand in Christ is what the Holy Spirit delivers to us by declaration, and it’s something He gives us as we likewise ask for this in Christ’s name. Jesus commands us to pray in His name, and as He says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
If we love Jesus, we do what He commands, which is to pray in His name for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will do exactly as Jesus promises, and deliver that “palpable right hand status” with all the concomitant joys.
Is this not what liturgy is? Is this not why we begin in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Is this not why we conclude prayers “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever”? Is this not why the entire posture of the liturgy is that through Christ we are in the heavenly realms, feasting with God?
Jesus’ promise this week is not that “in the name of Jesus” is some magical formula that will grant us whatever we wish – again, that merely asks the Holy Spirit to enable our idolatry – but it’s the promise that what we confess and declare through our worship is truly, in fact, an existential reality. In answer to our prayer, the Holy Spirit will make real for us, by His Word, our status at God’s right hand. And there, as the Psalm tells us, are pleasures forevermore, or as Jesus puts it this week, our joy will be complete.
What a wonderful way to live! What a wonderful promise, an absolute one, not one we have to play theological twister for, and explain why God doesn’t answer our prayers. He always answers this prayer for the Holy Spirit, as proved by the fact that liturgy always goes on and is always available for us. He doesn’t leave us as orphans, but is really present with us each Lord’s Day, where we are drawn to Him, our Bronze Serpent, which causes us to face God, so He can face us, and save us.