For the Seventh Sunday of Easter, we read once more from the Gospel According to Saint John. In this week’s gospel, we hear words of a prayer spoken to the Father by Jesus. In these words that occurred during the Last Supper, we hear our Lord’s petitions concerning the disciples… and those who would follow after them in faith.
"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world.
O righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you; and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:20-26)
In the upper room where Jesus gathered with his disciples, he had prophesied many things to them. As the conversation drew to a close, however, Jesus turned his attention to the Father and began to pray these departing words before his gathered followers. The emphasis of his prayer concerned the unfolding future of his disciples, and those persons who would come along afterward to walk in faith. Heard by those witnesses, Jesus petitioned that the disciples would be one with himself and the Father. Indeed, he asked that those who had been with him from the beginning of his ministry were to be in glory with both the Father and the Son.
The word glory we understand from the Greek as having a wide application. It broadly carried a literal, figurative, objective or subjective usage. Here it seems to indicate, however, that Jesus wanted his followers to literally participate in the unified dignity and respect that eternally existed between the Father and the Son. Jesus was asking the Father that those who would be left behind by his Crucifixion should be given this gift. Thus they would not be abandoned.
The dignity the God gave in response, therefore, was a literal quality not earned by any disciple, but was freely given. Jesus, by enduring the unfolding plan of divine salvation… went to the cross, paying the penalty for human sinfulness. He thus offered up before God the price for the glory requested from the Father. He offered this gracious gift on behalf of those who believed and would come to believe, His life was then, and eternally is now… the price paid for out perfect, eternal restoration and communion with God..
When we delve further into the reasons for the writing of this prayer in the gospel of John, we consider the turmoil that was going on in his churches at the time of its writing. These were churches to which this gospel was first written. By studying their setting then, we find a message for us as we live now in our own age. For the situation (sitz en leben) in John’s churches, we see that the life they once knew was falling apart. The infant church of the late first century was being tossed about by hostilities. John thus used the prayer to point out that just as the faith and unity of the first disciples had been challenged, and the Holy Spirit kept them together after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, so was his church to be sustained through turmoil by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this prayer, therefore, the Johannine community heard words concerning their own situation. Enlightened by these words, both the church of John and we ourselves who now gather… may realize that while not always being accepted by the world, we are restored by the grace of God. The disciples were told that the message would endure. Thus the Johannine churches who came after them, and were in the midst of splitting away from synagogues and persecuted by the Roman authorities also knew. They were accused of horrid deeds and made to hide their worship in homes or in such places as the catacombs of cemeteries. Thus these foundling communities were needful of this strengthening message. Jesus had prayed that they would be one with himself, and one with the Father. Thus they would be eternal as God is eternal. This good news was given by John through the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those of the early church, therefore, had surety of oneness in baptism and the Holy Eucharist. Each time they gathered it became a truly divine moment of togetherness.
What Does This Mean For Us?
Though sinful, as we gather in similar fashion we may seek our own “agogic” togetherness moments. These can occur gracefully within our individual church communities. We are sustained and reminded that we too are forgiven of sins and made part of a great divine power working within the world about us.
You see, though we in the church may find divisiveness in our midst about how separate from the world we should be, we also hear that we are called as disciples to be in, but not of the world. We are called by God’s Son to be witnesses in our own time.
As persons who receive forgiveness and are restored in hope, this reading calls us to task. We are to do grace-filled ministry in a sinful and pain-ridden world. We are to comfort others, providing the good news of salvation for those that feel the pain of separation from God. We may rightfully ask in prayer that the Holy Spirit shall be poured out, just as our Lord did before the Crucifixion and Resurrection. This is needful for us to do, so that repentant people shall know a better way of being.
Therefore, as the collective church gathered, let us together endorse and empower evangelical persons to write their faith onto the blank slate of waiting hearts and minds. We may rightfully pray that this effort would occur in a new generation. Let us aim to teach mothers, fathers, and children concerning the Holy Spirit’s work among us, so that every person shall know that they are called to join with us in this wondrous task. Pray to the Father that we may be one and we might participate faithfully alongside one another. So it was written by John.., and so it shall be.