In today’s gospel reading we encounter Jesus in prayer. In this prayer Jesus gives an account of his earthly mission to the Father who sent him to live among us. He prays, first for himself, and then for his disciples. And … if you read on beyond this reading, you will find Jesus praying for later believers as well.
During these days of lockdown, while our church buildings have remained firmly closed, we have all been urged to continue praying to the God who is not bound by bricks and mortar.
So … in the light of our encounter with Jesus in prayer, and in the context of our current situation, let me ask this: What do you pray for?
Whenever you pray; wherever you pray … what do you pray for?
This is not a trick question, although you may not have been asked it since you were prepared for confirmation, if then.
And … very often the answer to this question has a direct relationship to the question: What do you want?
So … I ask again, what do you pray for?
And … what about those times when we cannot pray, or rather when we feel that we cannot pray? Then, we are told in Scripture, Christ prays for us, not just about us, but actually on behalf of us!
Of course, that does not mean that we should not pray for ourselves and others. Rather, it means that we should cling on to the hope that comes from Christ’s prayers when we are thinking that it is not convenient, or just too much trouble, to pray ourselves.
Prayer is about not giving up on yourself, or on God, no matter what the circumstances in which you may find yourself.
The prayer Jesus is praying in today’s gospel was prayed at a time when giving up would have been easy. Jesus prayed this prayer between the Last Supper he shared with his disciples, and dealing with the political realities that would lead to his death.
But … Jesus did not pray for a way out!
No … Jesus prayed for a way forward.
As Jesus’ earthly life was drawing to a close, his prayer was not centred in that long litany of self-interest that so often makes up our prayer life.
Jesus prayed that, in and through what was happening to him, God might be glorified.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, that was how he started:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name …
that is, glorified be your name.
Jesus told us to pray that first – no matter what other ‘stuff’ might be going on in our lives, our first duty is to glorify God.
After glorifying God, Jesus prayed for his disciples –
I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.
Jesus was praying that they might be given the power to handle all the problems that might lay ahead of them.
And … Jesus prayed for something else – he prayed it for his disciples, and he prayed it for us –
Jesus prayed so that they may be one, just as we are one.
The ‘we’ refers to Jesus and his Father in heaven;
the ‘they’ refers to Jesus’ closest friends.
Jesus prayed for his friends, that they might experience the reality of oneness – just like the oneness of God and himself.
Later in the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus goes on to offer the same prayer for you, and for me, and for everyone.
Three times, within just three sentences, Jesus prayed that we might all be of one mind and one spirit – and that that one mind and one spirit might be in harmony with the mind and spirit of God.
Jesus prayed that we might put aside the flawed philosophy of ‘every man (or woman) for him (or her) self’ – rather, he prayed that we might embrace the more Christian philosophy of ‘all for one and one for all.’
How appropriate Jesus’ prayer is in the world that we occupy at the moment. Possibly never before in our lifetimes has Jesus’ prayer for oneness in mind and spirit with God been more important than it is now.
In the wedding service there is a prayer that contains these words:
Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will,
that they may grow together in love and peace with one another
and with you all the days of their life.
When that prayer is used at a wedding service we are, of course, thinking of the happy couple.
But … that is exactly what Jesus prayed for us – for you and for me. The night before he died, Jesus prayed that God would make us one with each other and with him. Surely, we cannot pray for anything less.
Holy Father, protect them in your name …
so that they may be one, as we are one.
The disciples had no idea what was really happening when Jesus prayed this prayer for the first time.
We do not have that excuse! We know the whole story.
We know the hope of the empty tomb that was to follow the cruel agony of the cross.
We know that Christ’s obedience to his Father’s will was a model for us to follow.
So … I ask you again …
whenever you pray;
wherever you pray;
what do you pray for?
Is it for the fulfilment of human desires and fancies, or is it, firstly, to the glory of God and then for the strength, and the courage, and the grace of oneship with the risen and ascended Christ, and a similar spirit of oneship with those we encounter in our daily lives?
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.