The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
When my family gathers together for holiday dinners, mostly at Thanksgiving, the job of praying for the meal usually falls on big brother, the pastor. And that act is usually greeted with grimaces around the table because big brother likes long prayers. One of my sisters one year was so bold as to say, “Please say ‘Amen’ before the food gets cold. We’re hungry.”
Today’s Gospel reading from John 17 is part of a longer reading that we call the farewell discourse, as Jesus sat down with his friends and shared one final meal before he was delivered to his death on the cross. These verses are part of what is known as the high priestly prayer.
This gathering of Jesus and his disciples is anything but a joyous occasion. Jesus knew that it was his last day. He knew that his hour had come to leave this world and go to the Father. He knew Judas was about to betray him. He knew that he would be arrested, tried, and condemned to die. But Jesus is facing this moment confidently because he is sure of his coming glorification, despite the horror of crucifixion that he is about to endure.
The disciples are troubled, confused and bewildered by all he has said, even though in the moments just before Jesus’ prayer, they seem to have come to an understanding of everything he has said.
So Jesus, looks up to the heavens and prays, “Father, the hour has come.”
But the most amazing point of this prayer is that he prays not for himself but for his disciples! He is solely praying for them, for their protection, for their sanctification and for their unity. And in this prayer he is not focusing on what is, but what will be through his own death and resurrection. The disciples are not to be taken “out of the world”. Rather, they are to enter into it, be engaged in it, come up against the very evil of it.
Jesus also makes a request on our behalf, as he prays, ”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
Two thousand years ago, understandably focused on his impending suffering and death, Jesus nevertheless turns his attention to us, actually prays for us. Jesus prays, in fact, for all those of every time and place who will come to believe in Jesus through the testimony of his disciples, and that includes us. Despite the thousands of years of separation by time we are one with the disciples in that Jesus is praying for us!
Jesus prays for us – for our ups and down, our hopes and disappointments, our aspirations and commitments, our yearning for meaning and need for purpose.
Jesus prays for our protection, which gives us a confidence that strips us of all fear.
Especially at this time, we need to pay close attention to the words of Jesus and not be overcome by panic and fear. We need to hear the words of Jesus and not react in ill-advised ways that are harmful to ourselves or to others. We need to take comfort in the words of Jesus, and trust in the promise that Christ walks alongside us in times of adversity.
As Christ faced his final hour, we also are able to face with confidence these moments of stay at home that have disrupted our lives, or these moments of pandemic that threaten our lives, these moments of uncertainty about the future of our lives, the lives of others, the life of our congregations, in the life of our communities.
In spite of persecution, Jesus is still active in the world – in spite of the mounting hospitalizations and deaths due to the pandemic, in spite of other illnesses, in spite of the violence all around the nation not related to this plague, we are still protected by his prayer.
On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed, “that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
This is God’s continuing and hopeful call to us, both as individuals and as worshipping communities. If we can indeed become completely one, at that point, we will indeed rejoice.
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