Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: death, disciples, Farewell Discourse, grief, Jesus, last words
There was once a man who had just buried his father. His relationship with his old man was never too intimate. The old man wasn’t like that. Never said “I love you” or “I’m proud of you, son.” The only time he could remember seeing his father cry was when, as an eight year old, he stood next to his father as they shoveled dirt into his mother’s grave.
Now, as he went through the old farmhouse, that memory stung his eyes with tears. He brushed them away, trying to be stoic like his father had been. “Death is just part of the game.” Those had been his father’s last words to him. As he sorted into boxes all the remnants of his father’s life, those words left a bitter ache. He had hoped that, at the end, his father might have something … more… to say to him. But it had been the same as always, obvious and uncomforting words not quite filling the space between them.
As he was packing up the bedroom, he found a box under the bed. Pulling it out, he discovered that it contained a series of leather-bound books. Flipping one open, he saw his father’s sharp script covering the pages. A journal? A boxful of journals? He had never known his father was one to write. He sat down on the bed, and began to read.
As he read, he finally heard the voice he had longed for. Moving back and forward through time, this written voice spoke of love. The son heard a familiar story, the story of his life, his family, but now there was insight- reasons his father had raised him as he had. Even if it didn’t all make sense, even if they weren’t choices he appreciated, finally he knew that his father had wanted the best for him; his father had loved him.
When a loved one dies, our opportunity to ask “why” about events and decisions ends with them. Maybe we never got to hear the words we most longed to, or are left with questions that will never be answered. For those few who receive them, a message left behind can sometimes give beautiful comfort, or at least can provide a remembrance of the relationship.
We open the gospel to hear Jesus praying to the Father. He is praying after, or as part of, his long final teaching to his disciples. Jesus knows he is about to die. Jesus knows he is about to leave his beloved community.
So, while this is a prayer between Jesus and the Father, and the disciples and recorder of this prayer are partially only eavesdropping, we can infer that Jesus meant for this prayer to be remembered and shared with the community and the many who would become members of the community, including us today.
This is Jesus’ final message, or at least a part of it. This prayer is a gift for those first disciples, who were about to be plunged into that bewildering experience of watching a loved one die. For those who would be left with so many unanswered questions when Jesus dies, this prayer is a revelation of Jesus’ intentions for them.
This prayer is a gift for us. We haven’t lived through the emotional rollercoaster of serving alongside Jesus, watching him die, and meeting him as he is resurrected and then remaining on earth to continue his work as he ascends to the Father. We do receive this prayer in the midst of retelling this movement. We hear this reading on the last Sunday of the Easter season, near the time when the church celebrates Jesus’ ascension, and just before we celebrate Pentecost, when we remember that Jesus sends the Spirit to be as his presence with us. This prayer helps us make sense of Jesus’ accomplishments in his death, resurrection, and ascension. It helps us find our place in the great salvation story. As Jesus prays for the ones in front of him, he is also praying for us. Along with the disciples who heard this prayer in person, we are the ones the Father has given to Jesus. Jesus’ intentions for those first disciples continue to be his intentions for us, the goal of his work.
What is Jesus asking for? Jesus prays for the ones given into his care, that the Father would protect them and make them one, so that the community shared on earth among the believers would mirror the community shared between the Father and the Son. This is his most explicit petition for his disciples, but Jesus’ prayer also includes Jesus’ petition to return to glory now that his work on earth is drawing to a close. Jesus summarizes that work as glorifying the Father, giving eternal life, and making the Father known.
Jesus is talking to the Father for us. We get to hear Jesus’ plans and hopes for us. Because we trust that God accomplishes what God intends, these things for which Jesus prays are things that are our reality today. What Jesus prays, God has made so.
We could spend days talking together about how we see Jesus’ prayer being accomplished in our world today. And scholars have spent even longer trying to figure out what Jesus even means- what it would look like to be one, to be protected, and so on.
There’s one petition worth exploring a little bit deeper. Jesus talks about giving eternal life to all whom the Father has given him. Jesus doesn’t just mention eternal life, he defines it. As Jesus prays it, eternal life is knowing the Father, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent. This is worth considering because so often we think of eternal life only as a future destination, somewhere we might be lucky enough to go, somewhere nice and reserved for those who were nice in this life. To Jesus, eternal life is a quality of life that is experienced here and now. It’s living now and being immersed in the life-giving relationship God creates with us.
This isn’t to say that Jesus is ignoring any sense of life after death. Jesus is about to die, and he is confident that he will travel through death to life, to be present with the Father. Jesus is coming to the Father, and, at the end, Jesus will also come to us, as he has already brought us into the relationship shared in God.
As Jesus approaches death, his thought are for his disciples- and for us. We are not left wondering about Jesus’ intentions towards us. This prayer is Jesus’ assurance that God is working in our lives. God is giving us eternal life, protection, and community with God and with each other. Jesus’ work was to give us these gifts. Be confident that Jesus has done everything necessary for you to receive these good things.
Jesus’ prayer is clearly recorded for you, so that you would not need to search and wonder, but may rest assured that Jesus loves you, and that even though death will come, you will not be left alone.
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