Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 20, 2012
We’re familiar with the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it often as our Lord has given it to us to pray. There is no greater prayer. There is no prayer that encompasses the way it does everything we need and everything we ought to pray for. In a sense, this prayer we have in today’s Gospel reading is more accurately the Lord’s Prayer as it is the prayer our Lord prayed to His Father as He was about to embark on that path to the cross. The Lord’s Prayer we pray often, this prayer we not only do not pray, we often do not even look at it. In the Lord’s Prayer we are given what to pray, in the prayer our Lord prays in
John 17 we are given what our Lord
prayed for us.
What is it that He prayed for us? Even though the Gospel reading begins in the middle of His prayer, we’ll start where the Gospel reading starts and we see Jesus talking about how He is no longer in the world. It’s obvious that Jesus was still in the world as He was praying these words. Jesus speaks as one who does not speak as we do. He speaks as God. We speak as people who are created by God. Jesus speaks with knowledge we do not know. So often our prayers are about things we don’t know. Things that are coming up and we need guidance or help. We’re asking God for a certain outcome. Whether it’s surgery or a change in occupation or a difficult decision we’re facing. There is so much we don’t know so we pray to the one who knows. We pray to our Heavenly Father who knows all things.
Jesus here is praying to His Heavenly Father. Yet, Jesus is God even as the Father is. Jesus prays knowing He is about to go to the cross. Jesus knows that even after being in the tomb three days He will be unbound. He will once again walk around as He is now, and yet He will not be limited by things like walls. He knows that soon He will ascend into heaven. He will no longer be in the world.
For Jesus this is all reality, even now as He is praying to His Heavenly Father. And so His prayer is prayed as one who is no longer in the world. His prayer at this point in the prayer that our Gospel reading shows us is for His disciples, the men He will call to be apostles. They are in the world. They will stay in the world. He will be going to the cross. He will be rising from the grave. He will be ascending into heaven. They’ll stay around. Thus, Jesus is praying for them. He knows, they’re not fully aware of what’s going on. So Jesus prays for them.
This is an invaluable thing Jesus is doing for us. It may seem the logical thing to do to transfer what He is praying for them to us and certainly it all applies to us. But before we do that think about what Jesus is actually doing. He is praying for them. He wasn’t spending time in some ivory tower speech, He was praying for those His Father gave Him; those who were close to Him; those He cared deeply for. Even if nothing of what He prayed for them applied to us, what He is doing is a loving act on His part which applies to us. We know elsewhere in Scripture that Jesus prays for us, one place being at the end of this prayer. The words He prays here for His eleven disciples is a beautiful picture of what He does for us. We’re in the world, are we not? We need help. We need Jesus praying for us. And we can be assured He does.
Knowing this, we can look to the words Jesus uses to pray for His beloved disciples. His prayer is that they may be one, even as He and His Heavenly Father are one. So how do you be one with others? It’s plain to see that as Christians we don’t always get along with one another. Does that mean we’re not one? The disciples themselves didn’t always get along. Jesus’ prayer for oneness isn’t, “Father, let them get their act straight so that they can get along.” He prays that His Father would keep them in His name. What has our Lord taught us to pray? “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” In there, in His name, is found our oneness. It’s not in getting along, although that’s really nice, isn’t it?
God the Father is holy and we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that we may keep His name holy. As we are taught in the Catechism, how we do that is “when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus doesn’t ignore difficult things we face. He addresses them head on, such as temptation and evil. The petitions “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil” show us that this life is not always easy. In His prayer He prays in our Gospel reading He tackles those same matters. These are sad words: “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” He also prays: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” We can’t think about Judas Iscariot without being saddened. We can well imagine how heavy of a heart Jesus had when He prayed these words about Judas. We can imagine how conflicted He was when He prayed that His beloved disciples would remain in the world even as they would be assaulted by the evil one.
When we consider our Lord’s prayer here in the Gospel reading and the prayer He taught us to pray we are brought to greater understanding of keeping God’s name holy; namely, “when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it… But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us...” Judas had been the recipient of the very same Word of God the others had. Even two thousand years later we are the recipients of that very same Word. What will we do with it? Will we reject it as Judas did, and thereby be doomed to destruction? Will we succumb to the temptations of the devil as Judas did and thereby not live holy lives according to God’s holy name?
Sitting here it’s easy enough to say, “No. I’ll be faithful, unlike Judas. I believe, unlike him.” Yet, in the time of temptation we are often weak. We do sin even as Judas did. But this is where it’s all the more important that we go back to these words of our Lord; His words of prayer for His beloved disciples. His promise that He prays for us in the same way. Even as He prayed for Judas. You are never too far gone for Him to stop praying for you.
When Jesus was praying this prayer for His disciples they weren’t aware of what would happen to Him, that He would suffer, die, and rise. They also didn’t know that He would soon after that ascend into heaven, leaving them on their own; as He says in His prayer: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” They assuredly wondered what that was all about, leaving them. But it didn’t take long for them to see that He really didn’t leave them on their own. He continued to intercede for them. He delivered to them the Holy Spirit. He continued to come to them through the Gospel and His Sacraments He had instituted.
This should sound familiar, as He does exactly the same for us today. He ascended into heaven coming on two thousand years. But He is very present. He still intercedes as He did for His disciples. He continues to come to us when the Gospel is proclaimed and the Absolution is pronounced. He brings us into His life through Baptism and sustains us in that life through His Holy Supper. As we are also sent into the world by Him, what more could we want or need than having partaken of the very Body and Blood of our Lord? When Jesus prays to His Heavenly Father that His beloved disciples are sanctified in the truth and that the Father’s Word is truth, well, it’s no stretch that He does exactly that for us.
We go out into the world. We who are holy, sanctified, make known this very Word to others as well. His prayer for His disciples was fervent. His continual intercession and coming to us in His Sacraments is equally fervent. It really is a natural extension that this fervent love from Him to us goes to others. We extend that very love of Christ to others, sharing with them the love of God in which Jesus loves them and forgives them and died for their sins.
In the Lord’s Prayer our Lord teaches us to pray. So here with this ‘other’ Lord’s Prayer. In praying to His Heavenly Father our Lord is teaching us to pray. This is really our Lord teaching us what Paul says when he says we are to pray constantly. Our lives are lives of prayer. This doesn’t mean folded hands and bowed heads 24/7. At the very least we need to sleep. But we also have many other duties and callings, don’t we? We live and serve others and carry out the tasks our Lord has called us to. This is the life of prayer. We could take off from what we heard from John not so long ago, we love because He first loved us. In the same way we pray because He first prayed for us. We live because He first lived for us. Amen.