9 You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
you refreshed the land when it was weary.
10 Your people found their home in it; *
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
33 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; *
sing praises to the Lord.
Today we come to the Seventh Sunday in Easter, the pause, the anticipation of the promise, the flash of insight before the work of Pentecost begins. The church, not quite ready to be church, is asked to go deeper into love in these ten days of Ascensiontide. Today we find ourselves in this transition time where in the Gospel reading, Jesus prays for his disciples on the night before he is arrested and crucified. And in our reading from Acts, Jesus has ascended to his Father, going ahead into God’s future where God’s kingdom has been established and waits for us all.
In John’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus who loves us dearly, who longs to be present with us, and seeks our well-being, has gathered with his followers in a room where they are sharing time together as Jesus lives out his final day on earth. John devotes a full five chapters to Jesus’ last time with his disciples. He has washed their feet in love—sharing himself as a model for serving others. He tells them that soon he will be betrayed by his closest friends, and that he will no longer be with them, but he promises that he will not leave them “comfortless.” That he is going ahead to prepare a place for them and that he will send an Advocate who will be with them forever. He shares his Peace with them and calls them to follow his commandment to” love one another as they have been loved.” Then before he goes out to his arrest, he offers a prayer to God in their hearing.
Jesus does not go away to an isolated place, leaning against a rock in a garden while his followers sleep nearby. Instead, sitting around a table, after a meal and an extended conversation, Jesus speaks where the disciples can hear every word. In John’s Gospel we are invited into what Raymond Brown describes as a “heavenly family conversation” between Jesus and God. Jesus is speaking to his Father, giving witness to the disciples, testifying to them about his intimate relationship with God. The power of this moment is almost unimaginable. These disciples are terrified and are still very much confused as to Jesus’ future actions. But in this moment, Jesus loves them into faith, and into their charge to follow him as God’s Son.
The prayer begins with affirmations of radical generosity. God has given Jesus everything–the word, the work, the people. And Jesus, authorized by God, has passed on the gift of eternal life to them. Eternal life which Jesus says is to know the “only true God, and Jesus Christ whom (God) sent.” Jesus then offers them to God knowing that Jesus has been glorified in all these gifts. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” (v. 10)
Jesus prays that God will “protect” his followers. In his prayer, Jesus asks that now that he is returning to the Father, that they be brought into a close intimacy with God so they may share this love with all they meet. Within this protection, Jesus desires that the disciples be drawn into the unity of the Father and the Son. Previously, he has told them that they will be scattered, that they will leave Jesus alone, and that later they too will face persecution. But in this prayer, his request that they will be one is what they will stand on—what will give them community and identity in their time of trial in the world. Jesus knows well that their task of being in the world, but not of the world, will be a great challenge.
He knows that as David Lose says that this world is “captive to a spirit that is alien to God’s spirit. It is too often animated by a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of hospitality, and selfishness instead of radical love.”
But even so, the world is a place that God loves dearly. From the first chapter of Genesis, we know that God “saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (1:31) In a chapter in John’s Gospel which is perhaps the most famous in the Bible, “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to redeem it.” The brokenness in and of the world will not defeat the love and healing grace of God.
Jesus is clear that he is not asking the Father to remove the disciples from the world. He indeed will rely on the disciples being fully in the world when he is not. They are to stay under God’s loving care. And it is in this care that they can find the way to live amidst all the complexities of the world without losing their path toward love. “Sent into the world” Christ reminds all who follow him that the pattern of his own life was not being removed from, but engaging fully with the world.
And today in our hearing, Jesus prays not only for those disciples back then. If we read just one verse further than our appointed reading, we hear that Jesus prays for us as well. In verse 20 we see: “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.” On the night before he dies, Jesus prays for us. He prays for us to be one—that we may be united through the love between God and Jesus and the love shared by Jesus with us.
When we gather together to hear God’s word and to remind each other of God’s everlasting presence, we are drawn together in fellowship with each other and in unity with God in Jesus to move forward with strength and courage to face the challenges that come in living in our world. Too often our world is a place where the gospel of peace, abundance, courage and love can be difficult to find. Yet we are called to follow in faith the one in whom we have the promise of eternal life, and to offer ourselves as witnesses to God’s love.
Jesus prays for his disciples—those he loves—then, now, always. If we let that truth come into our minds and our hearts on a regular basis how might we live differently? Less afraid? With boldness? More joyfully? These verses in John reveal that God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer is working on our behalf always—guiding us, walking beside us, holding us up, pointing us to the way of truth and life.
What love is expressed in this prayer! We can hear it every time we read these words of Jesus. In them we also hear of God’s love that passes all understanding for the world—the world that God loved so much that he sent his Son in to it for its redemption.
So this day, this moment, what do we need Jesus to pray for us. We often believe that it is necessary for us to pray to God for our hopes and desires. But in John’s Gospel we hear that Jesus prays for us. What do we need, what do we want Jesus to pray for—not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the world? Is it patience in being a better partner or parent or student or friend? Is it encouragement as we face the challenges (hard times) that come in life? Is it hope in the face of disappointments or failure?Is it courage to break down boundaries so that we all may be one? Is it honesty in facing our own broken parts? Is it persistence when we feel that we have used up all our apparent options? Is it companionship in a time of loneliness? Is it forgiveness or the ability to forgive another? Is it healing of body, mind or spirit?
On this seventh Sunday of Easter before the feast of Pentecost, the words of Jesus we hear today in his “Priestly Prayer” are most fitting. Jesus prepares his followers for his leaving the world. The incarnation is over. Jesus has returned to the Father. But those of us who follow Jesus are still here. His words and works now guide our lives. Jesus is counting on us to carry out his love in the world. But Jesus will not leave us orphaned. Jesus who came to bring abundant life, who even as he faced his final moments, prays for us, loves us, calls us to a future where each one of us, unique and precious are able to go into the world sharing a love that has no end.