7th Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017
When was the last time someone prayed for you out loud? It always catches me off-guard. When I was on internship, I used to visit Martha Kirby, who was fighting pancreatic cancer. She was often in bed when I came to visit; between chemo and the cancer, she didn’t have much energy. I’d read to her from her own Bible, in which the Bible stories I chose were usually already all marked up and underlined. Then we’d pray. I would hold her hand and pray for her healing, and for her family not to worry, and for peace for them all. Then before I let go of her hand, she’d pray for me; for strength to learn the skills I needed to be a good pastor, for patience in the face of a process that seemed never-ending, and to give thanks for the blessing I was to her. I always came away feeling more that I’d been ministered to than that I had ministered to Martha. It’s powerful when someone prays for you.
You are being prayed for today, as we listen to Jesus pray for his disciples. If we’d read on a little further, he says, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” That’s us. Jesus is preparing them for the events ahead after this fateful dinner in which he has washed their feet and shared bread and wine as his own body and blood. He wants God to protect them through the trials that await them, and to prepare them for the final move from being disciples to being his emissaries after he’s gone.
There is no Garden of Gethsemane in John’s Gospel. No pleading with God to remove this cup. No sleeping disciples. In this story, the Evangelist gives us a powerful Jesus who is in control of all aspects of this journey. Being on the cross is ‘being lifted up to draw all people to myself,’ and his final glorification – the completion of all he came to do. It is in John’s Gospel that Jesus gives his mother into the care of John, and says, “It is finished,” before he gives up his spirit.
In John’s Gospel, the ultimate sin is not to believe. Everything Jesus does, including coming to earth to dwell among us, is to show us God’s great love for us. Every healing, every teaching, every raising from the dead is a sign that points to God’s power to accomplish everything for the good of God’s people. It’s all so that seeing and hearing, people might believe that God knows them and cares about them, even to the point of coming to be with them.
And so, Jesus prays that they will be protected in a wicked world. He prays that they will work together to support each other and to make believers. He prays for their belief, as they have trusted that Jesus is truly one with the Father. He prays that they may have eternal life. He’s not talking about the long wait until they die for eternal life. He’s talking about the freedom that comes from trusting God’s love that can make even this life be filled with promise and joy.
Jesus’ prayer is a glimpse into what Jesus knows about God. He knows that he has finished the work he came to do: passing on God’s steadfast love and mercy to all who trust it. He knows that he is returning to his place at God’s side since before the world we know existed. He knows that these disciples are the people God has chosen to carry his work forward, and that he has taken care of them, taught them all they need to know.
This prayer also gives us a glimpse of what Jesus wants for us, who are the descendants of these first believers. Do you think that Jesus still prays for believers? I do. No matter where you are on the scale of deep faith or just a tiny glimmer of trust in God, Jesus prays for you to believe, to trust that God is at work always to bring you into God’s loving embrace. Jesus prays for us, his body the Church, that we will continue to lift the light of God’s love for each other and for the world; that we will continue to make disciples who work to make this world into God’s Kingdom. And Jesus prays that we will pray fervently for each other to the God whose love is so strong it brought Jesus back from death to life.
So I ask you, on this day when we get to overhear Jesus praying for his disciples, what is it that you want Jesus to pray for? For you? For us? For the world?