John 17:1-11 (&12-26) (NRSV) Jesus Prays for His Disciples
“…Father, the hour has come… I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. …. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world… I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you gave me, because they are yours. … Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. …. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. …Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. …” [Jesus then prays for all future people who come to believe, who will share in God’s truth, love, and glory.]
The Gospel of John devotes an entire chapter to the last prayer of Jesus before his arrest, placing it at the end of his final meal with his disciples. The “Synoptic” gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) have different accounts of that meal with no such prayer. They instead relate Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for God’s love and protection for the disciples before he prays for himself, requesting that “this cup” [his coming death] be removed from him, but only if that is his Father’s will, which Jesus knows will not be the case. John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as more accepting of his fate, rebuking Peter for attacking the guard: “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” [John 18: 11]
If Jesus is the model for our “journey to the cross,” it is abundantly clear that we must put the needs of others before our own. That makes Jesus’ prayer reassuring and scary! In rare moments we may sincerely pray that “thy will be done” rather than ours. We know that God’s will is perfect and so always superior to our selfish desires, but knowing and acting as if we know that are two different things. If it’s hard to put God’s perfect will above ours, how much more difficult to lift up the needs of other imperfect humans when those compete with ours?
Lent offers opportunities for personal devotion, learning, inspiring worship, music and art for meditation, ideas for acts of abstinence and penitence, and other ways of being self-satisfied that we are on a righteous spiritual journey. Yes, we should cherish and practice our faith in Christ and celebrate Christ’s faith in and for us, and the good news that Jesus died for us. BUT it’s not just a personal matter; ours is a communal faith. From the beginning God’s plan of salvation was for all creation—every human, bit of plant and animal life, subatomic particle, even things we haven’t discovered. Only God knows how all this can be so, but we must stay awake and learn how we can join in unity with our church, community, country, and world to make existence the best it can be for all. Maundy Thursday is a time to wallow in mysterious messy wonders—the joy of friends sharing a special meal, the awfulness of what the disciples heard and witnessed, the agony of Good Friday and glory of Easter Sunday ahead.
Religious and secular rituals can steady our steps to the cross and beyond. On Maundy Thursdays since age 12 I’ve polished the silver Jerusalem cross given to me by my best friend when she moved to Iraq. I find a quiet spot to think of her and of my adult trip to Jerusalem, where each site seemed touristy yet inexplicably very holy. Today, influenced by John 17, I’ll ponder how I can think less about my own blessings and challenges and more about those of others for whom Jesus is praying, and what my part might be in those prayers. How can I and other LPC members turn the messy mysteries of Eastertide into rededicated care for others?
Dear God, Help me and all in this church community recognize the work of you within ourselves. Help us to minister to others by being Christian leaders in the sense of Henri J.M. Nouwen’s words in The Wounded Healer: “The beginning and the end of all Christian leadership is to give your life for others. Thinking about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize the real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.” May your will be done. Amen.
Carroll Leslie Bastian
*Note: There is much beautiful on-line art related to Jesus’ last meal or to Jesus praying in Gethsemane. (Google “Maundy Thursday” and “Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane” for a wide selection.) However, none relates directly to Jesus’ prayer at the meal table for his present and future disciples as related in John. Likewise, poetry and music lyrics have a Gethsemane setting and focus on Jesus’ personal agony. Artists, poets, and hymn writers of Lewinsville arise and create a new thing!