Summary: On the night of his betrayal, Jesus prays that his church may be one, with the same unity that Jesus shares with his heavenly Father
May 24, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
The Prayer of the Divine
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Last Thursday was Ascension Day. 40 days after Easter, the risen Jesus meets with his disciples on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. He instructs them to stay in Jerusalem until they’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit. And then, he ascends upwards.
All the disciples can do now is wait. They return to Jerusalem and shelter in place within their upper room. Ten days later, on the Jewish festival of Pentecost, they’re clothed with power from on high. The Holy Spirit falls upon them.
But that happens next Sunday. Today is the “Sunday in the gap.” It falls between Jesus’ departure and the Spirit’s arrival. The disciples are all alone.
When children are young they need constant supervision by their parents or some other adult. But as children mature, parents reach a point where they can leave their child home alone. At first, it’s for just a short time. “I’m going to pick up your brother from basketball. I’ll be right back!”
It’s okay to leave them alone for a brief span of time. They won’t burn down the house. It’s short enough that they won’t panic.
With time that length apart widens. I remember when I was a senior in high school my mother had to go somewhere over night, and she left me home alone. My father had died a few years earlier, and my sister was away in college, so that left just me at home all by myself. I was a bit nervous at the prospect of being home alone, but also encouraged that my mother trusted my capabilities to be self-reliant.
Many of this year’s high school seniors will be leaving home in the near future. This fall, some might go away to school. They might be launching into a career or venturing out on their own to live independently. As their children make this passage into independence, parents are filled with concerns as they let their children go. One of the things they do is pray. They pray for their children. Parents spend a lot of time on their knees in prayer.
This kind of caring concern was exactly what was happening to Jesus at the end of his ministry. Our text today from John 17 comes from the night of Jesus’ arrest. He knows what’s coming. Very soon he’ll be arrested, and the ensuing events will unfold to their bitter conclusion.
Jesus knows he’ll no longer be with his disciples. And so he prays for them. Chapter 17 of John is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.
The first thing he prays for is that his purpose be fulfilled. He came into this world to die on a cross. He came to reconcile a broken humanity with God. He came to absorb and defeat the sin of the world. And so he prays that all this will be so.
And then he prays for his followers. As he will no longer be with them, he prays for their protection. He asks that they be protected “so that they may be ONE.”
His chief prayer for us is that we may be one. Jesus prays for our unity.
• He prays that we may walk in singularity of purpose.
• He petitions that collectively, our hearts may be tightly knit together.
• He asks that our communion and community with one other be indivisible and inseparable.
• To sum up, Jesus prays that our life together as his faithful people may be blessed with the same unified bond as Jesus has shared with God.
He prays thus because he knows the forces working to rend us apart. Simply put, the problem is sin. Sin works to divide. Sin alienates one from another.
It has always been thus. The book of Genesis presents a sweeping view of sin’s ability to alienate. After Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree, every relationship imaginable is affected. They hide from God. They blame one another. They blame the serpent.
Sin happens, and the result is utter division. There’s alienation from God, division with one another, and separation from the created order. And the wages of all this sin happening in the world is the greatest alienation of all, death. Death is the ultimate separation. Divide and conquer, that’s what Satan has in mind.
Division is the enemy. Jesus himself is about to be divided from his disciples. And so he prays for them in his absence. He prays for their protection.
Jesus fully entered fully into our sinful reality, East of Eden. But even so, Jesus remained completely one with the Father. In this perfect unity, he prays the prayer of the divine. He prays that they may not be divided; he prays that they may remain one. He prays that nothing may get between them. He asks that they might be fully one with another, even as the incarnate Jesus is one with the Heavenly Father.