Seventh Sunday of Easter Yr A May 24 2020
Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11, John 17:1-11, Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
Us Midwesterners, joke a little about our long goodbyes. You know how it goes, you’ve had a houseful of guests, and everyone has had a great time visiting. It’s getting late and people have to work in the morning. It’s time to say your “goodbyes”. Everyone gets up, and starts heading toward the door, starting a new conversation or continuing one from an hour ago. You escort your guests to the door, and they get their coats and boots on – all the while you’re still maintaining a conversation with them. Usually, about how much you like their choice of winter footwear, or the color of their parka, scarf, or mittens. Your guests are dressed to leave, but someone thought of one more thing to say and the conversation continues. This goes on and on and on and on and on and on. Pretty soon, an hour has passed and your guests are still standing at the door in their coats, their vehicle is still running in your driveway, and the conversation continues. Your guests make it out the door. Now you stand on the front steps and tell them to “drive safe”. This becomes another conversation about the weather and road conditions. After another 15 minutes or more, your guests back down your driveway, and it’s time for the final wave or flashing of lights. We call this the “final goodbye”. Your guests wave back, flash their lights and you continue to wave until they are out of sight before you head back inside.
It’s been that way for a while now in John’s gospel, we take up today in the middle of Jesus’ “final goodbye”. The fancy word for it is “farewell discourse”, but it’s much the same. In this goodbye Jesus has been telling his friends about many things. How to love each other and their enemies. That relationship looks like abiding and dwelling similar to a vine and branches, or a shepherd and sheep, or washing feet even when you’ve been betrayed and denied. And Jesus tells them about what will happen after he leaves, and that he will not leave them alone or unprotected. In and among all these final words, and the poignancy of love, and betrayal, and denial, is this prayer, Jesus’s prayer.
Here in John, unlike the other gospels, Jesus doesn’t actually say anything about prayer, Jesus doesn’t teach anyone how to pray, in fact, the word prayer never even comes up in John. Jesus prays. Jesus embodies prayer. In this prayer, Jesus prays for himself, and then he prays for his friends, and then Jesus prays for believers yet to be.
When Jesus prays for himself, he prays that God may glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you. In John’s gospel, Jesus is the visible presence of God. I don’t want to pass by that too quickly, because it is so important. Jesus is incarnation, Jesus is God in the flesh, when you look at Jesus you see God. In this part of the long goodbye, Jesus’ followers are just beginning to come to terms with the fact that Jesus will die, as all that is created will die, and they are rightly frightened, what will they do without Jesus? Jesus has just promised that they will not be left alone, that there will be another Advocate, the accompanist, the Spirit, with them when he leaves. In our liturgical year we just observed that event on the 40th day after the resurrection, the Ascension.
So now Jesus prays. And what he prays first is that in his body, in his life, and his death, God is visible. You see, Jesus is the embodiment of prayer, Jesus doesn’t talk about prayer, Jesus is prayer. Jesus is the relationship that makes God’s presence visible. And that’s what is meant by eternal life in this gospel. Chapter 17 verse 3 says, And that is eternal life, that they may know you. The relationship, the knowing, the intimacy. Do you see it, and hear it? John describes this relationship, as shepherd and sheep, vine and branches, washing feet. Eternal life is relationship in the here and now, not later, not after death, Eternal life is life that is now, life in relationship, life that is love. This is what Jesus prays for, that he is capable of showing forth that love, that life, that intimacy.
And Jesus prays that this relationship of love is with those first followers, and that they are protected, again like a shepherd protects the sheep, so that not one should be lost. Jesus asks that those first followers be sanctified in the truth. In this context sanctify means protect. Jesus is asking for protection. And then Jesus prays for those who will believe because of the testimony of the first followers. Those are you and me. Jesus prays for us. That we may be one. That we may also be in that abiding, dwelling, loving relationship.
What is prayer? Jesus doesn’t answer that for us, but Jesus shows us. Prayer is being present wholly and completely in the now. Prayer is responding to whatever life throws at us not by running away from God, but by putting ourselves fully in God’s presence, even when we haven’t a clue what that means, even when that seems really hard to do. Prayer is not filled with words, but with the Word, God present.
In these difficult times, prayer is not pleading for a different life, a different reality, prayer is responding to the presence of God in Jesus. The Jewish scholar, Abraham Heschel has written, Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live, amidst the meditation of mountains and the humility of flowers.
Prayer is not what we do but who we are. We are God’s beloveds, in whom and for whom the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the accompanist is present. We are God’s beloveds, giving thanks for the inconceivable surprise of living. We are God’s beloveds; our hearts break when the ones we love or are sick or are no longer with us. We are God’s beloveds, protecting the most vulnerable, caring for the least, the lost, and the lonely. We are God’s beloveds, doing our very best to get up when we’ve fallen in the muck and the mess. We are God’s beloveds, deserving nothing, and yet receiving the love that wins.
We are God’s beloveds, and our lives are God’s prayer. Amen.