Today is the seventh and final Sunday of Easter. This past Thursday we celebrated Ascension with a glorious sung evening prayer and next week will be Pentecost. Like the original disciples we now are in a period of waiting, waiting for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit as we say good-bye to the most beautiful Eastertide. Good-byes and waiting are necessary parts of life, though not always our favorite things to do.
This morning’s gospel comes at the end of Jesus’ long good-bye to his closest companions, which actually covers several chapters of John. These recall the conversation that took place on the night before Jesus’ arrest and death.
Throughout these chapters Jesus has reminded his disciples what he had done during his time on earth with them and he explains what it has meant. He tells them what is ahead of him and of them. He tries to prepare them for the future, even though they do not seem to understand. He then explains what he expects from them as they will be the ones to carry on his ministry on earth. And he reassures them that they will not be left alone to carry out this work.
It is a lot to take in and yet very important for them to hear and later to reflect about. Jesus then ends this long good-bye to those whom he loved the most, with a prayer. And this is today’s gospel passage.
Just as he has throughout his life with his disciples, on this last night, Jesus continues his teaching and his modeling for them. His prayer on behalf of his followers then and now, is a demonstration of how to pray for others, how to do intercessory prayer. This quiet, trusting prayer shows the level of deep intimacy between Jesus and his father. And we modern day disciples are drawn into that closeness and into that relationship and assured that our trust is well-placed, even thousands of years later,
As I reflect on this lesson I have thought about how our intercessory prayers match with Jesus’ prayer this morning.
In her book, “Kitchen Table Wisdom”, Rachel Naomi Remen tells of a patient of hers who is told by his oncologist that there was nothing more that could be done for him. The physician then said, “I think you’d better start praying.”
Are our intercessory prayers a kind of last resort, something to do when there are no more effective treatments available? Is God a final referral, and prayer the last ditch effort to get what we want to happen? Do we wait as long as possible before we ask for God’s help?
Remen counteracts this idea by talking about prayer in this way. “When we pray, we stop trying to control life and remember that we belong to life. It is an opportunity to experience humility and recognize grace.” We stop trying to control life when we pray. Our prayers express that God is in charge and that what we ask for ourselves and for others is that God assist us in carrying out His will.
Thanks to a faithful group of daily office readers and those in the St. Luke’s guild, even during this time of the pandemic Emmanuel has continued to pray regularly for those on the parish prayer list. This list includes the names of those for whom we pray in a corporate way. Most often, only a very few here know what the person needs or perhaps even who the person is, but God knows and that is what is important. We say the person’s name to assist in lifting them into God’s presence.
Of course in our private prayers we may be more specific in our requests, asking for healing or a resolution to a loved one’s problems. Or sometimes, rather than using words, we may visualize the person being held by Jesus for a moment or two.
Remember Jesus’ example as he prayed on behalf of his followers as he tells them goodbye. Jesus asks God to protect those he loves, the people that God gave to him to be close to while he was on earth. He asks God to guard them and protect them from the evil one.
He asks that God sanctify his followers; that they be made holy, set apart for God’s purpose in the world. Jesus prays that his disciples find unity with each other, that they form a community, and are made one, just as he and his father are one. And Jesus prays that through this unity that his disciples find joy.
Protection, discernment, unity, joy, these are all things that Jesus prayed for his disciples both then and now.
And when you think about it, this is what others ask us to pray for them. And what we ask others to pray for us. Protection, “Hold us close God; keep us safe”. Discernment, “How can I know that what I do is in accordance with God’s will; Show me your way, Lord.” Unity, “Help us to love each other, God, as we each love you. Keep us together, and help us to forgive to make that unity possible.” Joy, “May we see your hand at work in the world around us, Lord. Help us to know and to be grateful for all you have given us.”
Jesus’ good-bye prayer in this morning’s gospel is the teaching example of intercessory prayer. When we pray to God on behalf of others may we do it not as a last resort, but regularly and often. And may we follow Jesus’ example in asking for God’s protection, discernment, unity and joy for those for whom we pray. We do not tell God what to do; rather we ask for his assistance and loving presence as we seek to carry out his will.
This prayer in today’s gospel is an example for us, but even more it is a source of comfort for us even today. While Jesus prayed these words long ago it is his prayer for us now. In his last night on earth Jesus prayed for protection for all who would carry out his work in the future. That includes us. In these last few days of Easter tide may our alleluias be great. While we, like those disciples, wait to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out Jesus’ work, may we use the time to renew our prayers on behalf of others, following Jesus’ example.
“Jesus prayed for his disciples; Jesus prays for us.”