Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2005
The Gospel: John 17:1-11
Sermon: "The High Priestly Prayer"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."
The High Priestly Prayer
Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 8, 2005The High Priestly Prayer John 17:1-11
When we think about prayer a wide variety of possibilities come to mind. For example, we might think first of the Lord's Prayer that Jesus taught us. We might think of the Psalms. Some of us might think of intercessory prayer. In intercessory prayer we pray for the needs of others and ourselves. We even might think of healing prayer. In all of these cases, prayer is communication with God.
We can say that we are aware that we can talk with God. We can share out thoughts, our concerns, our hopes and our fears with the One who created us. We know from the scriptures that Jesus did the same. We know that Jesus took time to pray in the wilderness. We know he would go off by himself and pray to God and then come back to his ministry with the disciples.
Today's lesson from John is another instance of Jesus praying. In fact, this prayer is referred to as Jesus' high priestly prayer. It is different from other times Jesus prays in scripture. This prayer is done before the disciples. They hear every word. It is a time when Jesus prays for the community, allows the disciples to see the richness of the intimacy Jesus has with God the Father, and gives us a glimpse of the possibility of eternal life with God.
First of all, we should be aware that we only have one part of the prayer. The prayer encompasses all twenty-six verses of chapter 17. We only have the first eleven. Secondly, we should be aware of the timing of this prayer in the Gospel. This prayer is offered at the end of the evening with the disciples in the Upper Room. Jesus has washed their feet, taught them and had a meal with them. Judas has left the gathering to go and bring the guards to arrest him. The end of the evening is at hand. Furthermore, the end of Jesus' ministry is at hand. The arrest is soon to come and Jesus' death is fast approaching.
So, before he leaves with the disciples to go to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has one final prayer with his disciples. Jesus begins the prayer with acknowledging that his ministry is about over. The hour has come.
He has taught all he can teach. He has shown the ones who God gave him everything he can. His ministry has not been just about teaching about living a righteous life. His teaching has not just been about healing. A major part of his teaching has been about the relationship Jesus, the Son, and God, the Father, share. Jesus and God share an intimate relationship. He addresses God not by title but as father. He exhibits the intimacy that a father should have with their children and the children with their parents. Their relationship is . founded on perfect love and trust. Throughout this prayer Jesus shares this intimacy. He constantly calls God, Father. He constantly refers to God's glorification of the Son, not that the Son may be glorified by people, but that God would be glorified by all people. What the Son does reflects on the Father and what the Father does reflects on the Son. They live in a perfect unity. Jesus shows us the depth of their relationship for two reasons. First, it is an example to us of the way God intends relationships to be. It has been God's intention for the relationship of God to creation and creation to God to be this loving, this caring. It was also part of God's plan for us to love one another in this manner. Now, we all know that our relationships are not this perfect. We get in the way. Our thoughts and our desires, our personal wants and our own needs get in the way of this depth of love. The point is Jesus shows us what God intended. Jesus shows us what God desires for us. Jesus shows us the depth of relationship for which we are to hope and pray. His intimacy with the father can be our intimacy with the Father.
It is for this kind of relationship that Jesus prays for us. As Jesus prays at this time of his death he prays for us. He does not pray for himself. He prays for the disciples. His prayer for them is that they will continue to be loved and to love God. God gave them to Jesus and now Jesus returns them to the care of God. He wants them not to be lost during the trial ahead. He wants God to love them and care for them when He is no longer in the world with them. In that respect, Jesus is praying for us. We are the disciples now. Jesus prays for our relationship with God. We are the recipients of the Gospel message. Weare the ones who know God is the One who created us and loves us. We are now the ones who need to feel the deep abiding presence of God in our lives.
Isn't it simply amazing that Jesus is so concerned for the disciples when he knows the crucifixion is coming soon? The cross looms ahead of him and yet, he prays for those whom he loves. Jesus knows that God is going to take care of him, but he still has to face the worst the world can offer. What a wonderful witness to us about the depth of trust and love.
To that end, Jesus also gives us a glimpse of our eternal hope. In the very last line of to day's prayer Jesus asks for us to experience the depth of the love of God. He asks for us to be one as they are one. We are asked to be bound to one another and to God in that deep abiding love. It is a love that we are to strive for in our everyday lives. Yet, we know that we can not attain it now. Even though we can not attain it now we will feel it one day. There will come the day when we will experience the love of God to the fullest. We will be one with God as Jesus is one in the fullness of love. Living in the fullness of God's love is our hope and our prayer. It is to that end that we live and work on this world.
For in truth nothing else matters. The clothes, the possessions, the accolades and the honors are all naught if we don't have love. Everything is just fluff if we are not striving to attain the perfect love of God in all our relationships. Even though we can not attain it fully now, we can begin to understand the depth of God's love as we love in this world. Sometimes I wish it was easy. Sometimes I wish that when we loved everybody would automatically love back. But love, the unconditional love of God is funny. It has to be freely given and freely received. God gives freely but we have to receive it. Likewise love one to another has to be freely given and freely received. If either party has strings attached or conditions it is not the love of God that is being shared. Our lives are an opportunity in this world. Our lives are an opportunity to learn to receive and to give the incredible rich love of God. We are to learn to receive it freely and give it freely. When we don't receive it or others don't receive it from us, then the love can not continued to be shared. I pray we will have open hearts. I pray our hearts would be like deep chalices. I pray these deep chalices would be filled with love overflowing that we would be empowered to share God's love with others. Please join me in prayer.