The Rev. Peter Faass
The opening words of the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel are the beginning of what is referred to as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer: “Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.”
The setting of the High Priestly Prayer is the upper room on the night before Jesus dies. He and the disciples have just finished foot washing and sharing their last supper. Jesus prays out loud so his disciples may hear him.
In this prayer, this man is about to sacrifice his life to complete the work he has been given – to inaugurate God’s reign. This prayer focuses on life, hope, and ultimate love.
On this Memorial Day weekend, this reading evokes images of the women and men who have served in the armed forces and died for this nation for the past 241 years. Like Jesus, they sacrificed their lives and completed a task for a greater cause - ensuring our nation’s freedoms and defending the sacred gifts of life and liberty. Their lives were and are a living prayer of love for this nation.
As we celebrate the beginning of summer this Memorial Weekend with barbeques, picnics, parades and relaxing, may we pause and give thanks to God for these sacrificial prayers of love given to us by these fallen soldiers and sailors. We do the same when we thank in our worship for the gift of love Jesus gave us in his sacrifice on the cross.
In his farewell prayer, Jesus spoke to God on behalf of the faith community. “I am asking on their behalf,” he prays to God. He asks, “Holy Father, protect them [the community of faith] in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
With these words, Jesus entrusts the future of the faith community to God. We often forget this powerful theological statement. The future of the church is in God’s hands, not ours. This reminds me of the bumper sticker that states, “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats.”
In this era of institutional church decline, more churches struggle to pay bills, achieve balanced budgets, are challenged with membership growth and with using their building as an asset, etc., this message comes as a wake-up call and a huge relief. The future of the church is in God’s hands, not ours. While that doesn’t release us from proclaiming the Gospel and building God’s reign, it means we are not in control of what God desires the church to be into the future, or how it will get there. Regardless of church’s future, Jesus tells us God will protect us as we do God’s work in the world. That’s a cathartic message. It lightens the burden considerably when wardens, vestry members, other lay leaders and clergy accept that the church’s future is up to God. We just have to be faithful and trust in God’s protection.
At the heart of the High Priestly Prayer, we learn that the Father gave us Jesus, “to give [us] eternal life . . . And this is eternal life, that they [the faith community] may know you, the only true God.”
Christian theology often focuses on the idea of eternal life being the afterlife, i.e., heaven. The idea of eternal life as a future, other-worldly experience contradicts what Jesus preached, that “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17: 21). In this prayer, eternal life comes from knowing God.
As Jesus prays, God is in him, and he is in God. We know Jesus as love. We gain eternal life by knowing God, who is love, and then we live with love.
Jesus’ life, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension reveal the extent and nature of the love that informs our knowledge of God. They reveal the character and identity of God revealed in Jesus, whose life so overflowed with love that he freely gave himself for the salvation of the entire cosmos. To know this God of love is to have eternal life.
If we are to become one with the Father and the Son, we must embody a giving sacrificial love in our lives by:
- Putting the needs of others before our own
- Loving the loveless
- Caring for the poor
- Tending to the sick
- Welcoming the stranger
Every little thing we do, if it is done in love, reveals God within us – the members of the faith community - to others. It ALL matters.
A candidate for our music director’s position emailed me after he auditioned for us this past week. He wrote that he and his girlfriend “…agreed that [Christ Church] was one of the friendliest parishes they ever visited.” His comments remind me that every person and encounter matters, especially when we embody the love of Jesus as we meet them.
To love is lived prayer. The women and men in the armed forces we remember this weekend lived and died in love defending the values of our nation. Their lives were lived prayer. They knew eternal life in the here and now because of that, and I know they are safe in God’s protection.
Jesus, in his High Priestly Prayer, says our lives are in God’s protection, that God is in charge, and that with God ultimately “all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This knowledge about God frees us to incarnate the love of God in all that we are and do. In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus calls us to a life of living prayer by emulating the love of God within him. When we emulate this love we become one with them, and we come to know God. Eternal life will then be ours forever.