Today we come to the last Sunday in Easter. Throughout these 50 days we have reflected through scripture and music and prayer on the presence of the risen Christ, seeking him in our lives and in the world. 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, and we find the disciples beginning to establish the first church community that will carry their witness of the risen Christ to the ends of the earth.
In John’s Gospel we hear that Jesus who loves us dearly, who always 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 approaches his final day on earth. John devotes a full five chapters to Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. He has washed their feet in love. He has shared a meal. He has told them that he will be betrayed by his closest friends, that in a little while they will no longer see him, 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. Then just before he goes out to his arrest, he offers a prayer to God in their hearing.
They are seated around a table, they have a shared meal and extended conversation. Without retiring to an isolated place, Jesus begins to speak directly with his Father in their presence. The disciples can hear the words that he says.
It begins with affirmations of radical generosity. God has given Jesus everything, the word, the people. And Jesus has passed this on to those whom God has given him. Jesus affirms what the disciples know and what they have done. He tells God that the word God gave to Jesus and the word he passed on to these disciples has been kept by them. He says that they recognize that everything they have has come from God and they believe in the truth that God sent Jesus to them. 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 is not telling the disciples what they know and what they have done, he is telling his Father about them in their hearing. 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 courage, and into their charge to follow the Son of God.
Then Jesus asks for God’s protection for these people who God has given him. He requests that the disciples be protected in the name of the Father, the power and presence of “I AM” and in that protection that they become one. Earlier, Jesus has told the disciples 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.
In this protection, Jesus desires that the disciples should reflect and be drawn into the unity of the Father and the Son. Jesus says in his prayer that while he was with them, he protected and cared for them. But now that he is returning to the Father, he asks that they be drawn into the divine love in such a way that they can share this love with the others that they will meet. The disciples, whom the Father gave to Jesus and whom he now returns to the Father’s protection are guarded not only for their own sakes, but also to fulfill the mission of love in the world.
Jesus knows that this 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 courage, and selfishness instead of sacrificial 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. Jesus intended to leave his disciples and us in the world, for it is here that our joy will be made full. It is here that if we remain one with the Son and the Father, the world will come to know God’s eternal love. Jesus gives us “a new commandment , that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-5)
Instead of retreating from the world, Jesus offers an alternative model that can empower the community to live in the world without surrendering to its values or pressures. They are to stay in the world under God’s protective 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.
Jesus prays to the Father that the disciples be sanctified in the truth (v.17), which is Jesus himself. Jesus asks that these disciples be sanctified—or set apart for holiness in the world. Jesus’ followers are set apart to be God’s act of love. Holiness is a category that can only happen in the world. It is a sign to the world. Holiness is love; it lays down its life for its friends. Holiness is not found through disengagement in the world, but by immersion in God’s word: “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth” (v. 17)
“Sent into the world” Christ reminds all who follow him that the pattern of his own life was not being removed from, but engagement 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 pericope, we hear that Jesus prays for us as well. In verse 20 we read: “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.
As we gather together to hear God’s word and to remind each other of God’s promise of love, we are drawn together not only in fellowship with each other, but in unity with God in Jesus where we find the capacity to move forward together with strength and courage to face the challenges that come from living in a world where the gospel of grace, abundance, courage and love can sometimes be difficult to find and yet to invite others into the great wideness of God’s loving presence
When we think of the Lord’s Prayer we think of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples that we say when we gather for worship. But in John’s gospel we have another Lord’s prayer—the prayer our Lord prayed and is still praying for us that we might find the strength we need to be one with him, with God and each other. Here Jesus prays for his disciples, but also for those of us who believe in Jesus through the words passed down by generations of his followers.
What assurance this provides. What love is conveyed in this prayer that we can see every time we read these words of Jesus’ constant care, concern and compassion for us and of God’s love that passes all understanding for the world—the world that God loved so much that he sent his Son to redeem it.
So this day, this moment, what do we need Jesus to pray for us. We are not removed from the world and we know that we are not promised that all our problems will vanish or that because we believe our road will be smooth. But in light of that, 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 child or friend? Is it encouragement as we face the difficulties that come in life? Is it hope in the face of the illness of someone we love?
Is it courage to stand up for what we believe is right? Is it honesty in facing our own trials? 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?
Whatever we need, we can trust that Jesus who came to bring abundant life, who did not remove himself from the dangers of the world, who even in his final moments, prays for us, loves us, and has gone ahead calling us to a future where all are reconciled. In fellowship with each other and with Jesus, with God, and with the Holy Spirit we are strengthened to go into the world sharing a love that has no end.