Summary: Jesus said, "I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by your name, the name that you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one." (John 17:11)
“Kiss me Hardy”
“Et Tu, Brute”
“Strike the tents!”
What do these statements have in common? They were each the last words of famous men (Lord Nelson, Julius Caesar and Robert E. Lee, respectively).
Let me add one from a famous woman: "Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!" (Joan of Arc) Rather chilling that one (though ‘chilling’ is probably not the term to be used of someone who was burnt at the stake).
One of my favourite ‘last words’ come from Confederate General Stonewall Jackson: ȁLet us cross over the river and sit under the shade of the trees."
These would appear to be very peaceful words of parting, except that they were preceded by various passionate commands: "Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks. . . .”
People used to collect these ‘last words’ very meticulously of course, and in some periods of history there has indeed been an almost morbid fascination with a persons last words - and even if not their actual last words, their last speech perhaps, or last prayer or last farewell. The assumption of course is that people see things more clearly and speak more honestly in their final hours than they do at any other time of their life.
Karl Marx apparently rejected this notion entirely. His final words were to a woman who asked him for any last words, to which he responded angrily, “Go on. Get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
Even so, if you talk to Father Elias, he may be willing to share with you some fascinating information about the tortured last words of the famous atheist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, and it is an account that rings true to the fact that it is often not till a person reaches the point of death that they are ready to speak openly and honestly about what they truly see and believe.
Few people, they say, get to the end of their lives and say, “Oh, if only I had spent more time at the office!” And as someone who has spent quite a lot of time with people who are dying, I can confirm that, from my experience, that is entirely true. Indeed, in my experience, most people who are dying spend their final hours worrying about and talking about their children. And so perhaps it should not surprise us that Jesus, in his final hours, did the same!
"And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:11)
Jesus is praying for His disciples, and the passage is from John 17. And of course these are not exactly Jesus’ last words, but they are part of his last great prayer that was made at His last meal with His disciples, that which is commonly referred to as ‘The Last Supper’.
And what is Jesus thinking about at that last supper. What was He talking about. What was He praying about? He was talking and thinking and praying about His disciples - the spiritual children that God had given Him. And He prayed for them for strength. He prayed for their protection. And He prayed for them that they might have unity.
“That they may be one, even as we are one”.
And the things for which Jesus prays for His family are obviously closely related. He prays for protection, strength and unity, and the three prayers are of course one prayer, as when we have unity we are strong and protected.
I remember reading of a pastor visiting a medical unit that housed severely mentally handicapped persons, many of whom had violent and difficult histories, and yet the pastor noticed that the entire unit, that housed more than 100 patients, had only three persons there who were function as security
“Are you never concerned as to what you would do if there was a riot?” he asked. “Not at all” said one of the guards, dryly. “Lunatics never unite!”
And that seems a fitting analogy for the universal church in some ways, I think. In our crazy fixation with doctrinal and institutional purity, we find ourselves unable to unite, such that we can’t even start an effective riot, let alone change the world through filling it with the love of Christ!
In unity there is strength, and in strength the vulnerable are protected. And so Jesus prays for unity for all His children, and not just a unity based on a common commitment to His cause but that “they may be one, as we are one”.