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May 12, 2024

The Reverend Kathleen Killian

Easter 7B/24

John 17:6-19



For the last forty-two days, since Easter Sunday, we have been searching out the meaning of the Resurrection, while following the risen Jesus full circle, as it were, all the way back to the Last Supper, which is the setting of our gospel today as it has been for the last two Sundays. Over the past weeks, we’ve been listening to Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciple, his passion soon to begin. This morning his long goodbye comes to an end with a prayer, not for himself as one might expect, but but for his disciples.

In what is known as his high priestly prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples who were present with him at the Last Supper, and for future generations of disciples—for us—his singular and immense invocation spreading outward in concentric circles, rippling to the edges of time and space: Holy Father, protect those you have given me in your name, so that they may be one, as we are one.

The word given, and its use in our passage as well as the whole of Jesus’ high priestly prayer, occurs numerous times, far more than in any other chapter of the New Testament as I read in in one commentary. This “givenness” tells the story not only of Jesus’ prayer but of his relationship with the Father, and subsequently with with us. Stay with me here: the Father has given Jesus authority over all of creation, so that Jesus can give eternal life. The Father has given Jesus his disciples and has given Jesus work to do. Jesus also gives those who have been given to him work to do. The portion of Jesus’ prayer that we heard this morning is focused on his disciples then and now, who have been given to him and drawn into the love of Father and the Son and the mission of God. 

All mine are yours, and yours are mine, Jesus prays to the Father; heaven and earth, person and God, cosmos and humanity are related to and united in them and their truth and love. This is the essential meaning of Eastertide, that as disciples of Christ, we are living in the given truth and love of the Resurrection—while we also seek to recover the lost pieces of our original unity—which is central to the work that Jesus has given each of his disciples to do.

And so Jesus prays for the protection of his disciples, those who were given to him, not once but three times, because the world is absolutely littered with the stumbling blocks of our lost and broken pieces of wholeness. The body of Christ is dismembered by disunity, disagreement, dislike, disorder and disease; “dis” can be despairing and exhausting, and so we are further disassociated from our pain and that of the world in a myriad of ways both large and small, temporal and spiritual. Religious faith may only intensify this desire—to escape to a better heavenly place—away from the earthbound place of the work of our discipleship, the world. 

Jesus speaks to “the world” thirteen times in the fourteen verses of our gospel today, underscoring the importance of God’s mission of love in the world. But as the gospel passage might also suggest, though really it spells it out, neither Jesus or the disciples belong to the world, the world that hated Jesus and now hates his disciples. Strong language, though caution is needed; in that Jesus is not dissing the world or condemning the creation, for as attested in John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to it. Jesus came into the world to bring it and all therein into the fullness of God’s kingdom of light, life, and love. The world, created by God, is a gift given to all. 

Jesus warns his disciples, however, about the parts of the created order and the Evil One who seeks separation and alienation from the Holy One and to destroy the good. The essential identities of his disciples, Jesus tells us, are not shaped by the prevailing cultural values and world claims, but by life in Christ; by the Incarnation, and our own incarnate embodied reality of life in Christ. 

To be sure, there are a plurality of “worlds” on earth; that of socio-economic and socio-religious structures and systems that divide, subjugate, commodify, and militarize huge swaths of the population, as well as the earth itself and her creatures. There is also the world that seeks to protect the vulnerable and provide for those in need and live peaceably with all of God’s creation. There are worlds within worlds, not only out there in the world but in here in our hearts. 

Jesus doesn’t pray that we are taken out of the world but rather says, I speak these things in the world so that they—my disciples who you have given me—may have my joy made complete in themselves. Jesus means for us to actively engage with the world, turning away from evil, working for unity, and cultivating joy—Christ’s joy, which is our own—to live from this place of mutual indwelling with him and the Father, ever to abide in love. This is the resurrection life. 

The gospel of John was written to a small late first-century Christian community that was persecuted and beleaguered. Through John, Jesus’ final instructions and prayer for them is not that they should give up or run away but that they are to be, as we are, like Jesus himself, fully in this world but not of it, not owned by the world, but belonging to the whole and wholly to God. 

This love and the unity of Jesus and the Father is not a merely a nice thought or good theology, but a source of sustenance, a living well, from which we are to draw nourishment for both body and soul. I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, in particular in relation to a much earlier passage in John’s gospel, in which the disciples urge Jesus to eat something after a long day: Rabbi, eat something.’  But Jesus said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has someone brought him something to eat? Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work (John 4:31-34). 

As disciples, as Christ’s body, we indeed have “food to eat”, which perhaps we ourselves don’t even know about. As it was for Jesus, our food is also to do the will or the desire of the Father and to complete the work that Jesus has given us each to do—however small or large—that we are sated and sustained. Jesus has given us the Father’s word—himself—not only for the sake of new and eternal life, but that we have access to God’s formative and abiding sustenance, and for the nourishment of body and soul now. 

I would venture, however, that many of us would prefer or are used to something more manageable, like a plate-sized meal rather than a God-sized feast. I think we’re often afraid to trust ourselves directly to God’s revelatory and sweeping life, at least I know I have been, because it means we’re vulnerable to God’s great transformative love. No matter though, because Jesus keeps on praying; for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Our gospel on this last  Sunday of Easter is soaked through with prayer, and appropriately so; for this past Thursday, May 9th, the church celebrated the ascension of Jesus to the Father, his second and final leaving. We are by liturgical time in an ambiguous space: Jesus has ascended to the Father but the Holy Spirit is yet to descend. Eager though we may be to get on to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it behooves us to stay put in the doorsill of the Ascension and Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Imagine: Jesus is praying for you! 

The Father and the Son are continually praying for you and for the world. Jesus prays for a unity of love in all of humanity; a love that is relational, reciprocal and creative, and lived out. A love that is given and to be given. 

It would seem appropriate then, that here in this place of Jesus’ deep prayer, we pray our own; that our prayer, Lord, answers yours: that we become one. Turn our hearts to you, the given One, that we complete the work you have given us to do in this world. Nourished and sustained by your love and truth, let us live in the trust and the joy of the Resurrection this day and forever more. Amen.