Our gospel lesson this morning centers on what commentators call “the other Lord’s prayer”. Unlike the familiar Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave to his disciples as a model for how to pray, this is not an exemplary prayer that Jesus gave us for posterity, which I consider a good thing – this one is a long longer, more complex and would be a bear to memorize and recite every week. Rather, this Lord’s prayer is a prayer that comes deep from the heart of Jesus.
To put this prayer into perspective, I suggest we look at this scripture in the wide-angle lens of its larger context. First, John places this prayer in the setting of the Last Supper, where Jesus was with his disciples for what he knew would be their last meal together. It seems despite all that he had taught about his impending death, he was the only realists in the room that night. Even Judas, who had already left the building to betray him, likely did not realize the full sequence of events and the consequences that his actions would set in motion.
Our gospel lesson picks up as the meal is concluding, and Jesus has begun his final discourse, or sermon. He knows he will soon be leaving his disciples to complete his mission and wants them to be prepared. And so, according to John, as Jesus has been teaching his disciples across these last three chapters about his nature, mission, destiny, as well as about their role and future in all of this, he concludes his homily with a prayer for his disciples – those in the room and those that would follow.
As we again zoom out to look at our lectionary calendar, his morning’s scripture is also set in the days following his ascension, which was observed last Thursday. In fact, this seventh Sunday of Easter is also known as Ascension Sunday, as the church acknowledges his final ascension into heaven. While we know that there was a 40-day period between the resurrection and ascension, the gospels focus primarily on proofs of his resurrection and vignettes of encounters with his followers. These scriptures are somewhat quiet regarding the content any teachings. However, I am going to venture to guess that during that interlude, he did more than simply verify his physical existence. Now that the disciples must surely have connected the dots between his earlier teachings, with the predictions of this death and resurrection/ to the reality that it had truly happened, I would think they were likely/ ready to listen with new ears and insight. Therefore, this morning’s scripture is very timely and appropriate for us to hear in the afterglow of the resurrection and the abiding hope of the ascension.
Within this prayer, which comes from the innermost soul of our Christ, three major themes emerge. First, he prays for unity among the disciples, using the example of his relationship with God the father. To this day, unity – among the disciples then, and disciples now called “the Church”, unity is a highly desirable goal. Actually, it’s more than a goal; it is meant to be a description, a word we say when we see people living as God intends, as sisters and brothers with any who will break bread and work together for the kingdom of God.
The unity or community (community literally means “with – unity”) of which Christ speaks could be well illustrated by a story of the Hopi Indians. Not long after the I.Q. (intelligence quotient) test was developed, several studies were conducted to find out how different groups of people scored on the test as a particular group. The test was administered to men and women, young and old, rich and poor and to many ethnic groups as well. It was in this context that the test was given to a group of Hopi Indians.
When the Hopi were given the test, they immediately started to ask each other questions and to compare their answers. The instructor saw this happening, and quickly intervened, telling them that they each had to take the test alone. “You are not permitted to help each other or to share your answers among yourselves,” he told them.
When the Hopi heard this, they were outraged and refused to take the test, saying, “It is not important if I am smarter than my brother or that my brother is smarter than me. It is only important what we can do together!” I think Jesus wanted this kind of love and fellowship among his disciples. Jesus’ prayer is for a unity that transcends ego, jealousy, greed or competition. He prays for us to live and work together for the benefit of the greater good, for that is what he modeled in his life and his relationship with the Father.
Secondly, he prays for protection and perseverance for all his disciples, for all time. He knew what lay ahead for him and it wasn’t going to be easy. Jesus is about to be brutalized by this world. And his dearest friends on earth would do nothing to stop it or even to stand with him in his agony. More than that, he also knew that it was not going to be easy for his followers after that. So, Jesus prays fervently about that. He could not and did not pray that the Father would give them an easy way, but rather that God would support the disciples amid their challenges and that they will be one in fellowship with each other and with Jesus and the Father through the Spirit.
Therefore, as he looks ahead to his own departure, realizing that he’d have to leave his disciples, who were in all reality, his friends – to keep working in the midst of a highly challenging world- Jesus knows that among the things he must pray for them is protection from the evil one; from the destructive forces of life that seem calculated to proverbially knock the stuffing out of the disciples, then and now, more days than not. Jesus knows, too, that the success of his mission depends precisely on the disciples’ not being transported out of this world nor cocooned away somewhere far away from society or from the people in this world who need to hear the Gospel message. No, the only way his ministry going to continue was if the disciples continued to work right in the middle of the very same world that was about to reveal its true and evil character on that very night when no less than the Son of the Living God would get arrested and accosted and then nailed to a beam of wood. That was the world in which they’d have to work, and it was going to be a really scary place. AND that was why Jesus spent so much of this prayer begging his Father to give them all the help, all the protection, and all the support He could provide. Hence, if ever we in the church needed a reality check as to what we should expect in ministry and in service to this world, the fervency of Jesus’ prayer here should remind us that we should not expect smooth sailing, but that the Father’s protection goes with us in all that we do.
Finally, he prays for sanctification of his followers. Sanctification, or in its verbal form, sanctify, literally means “to set apart” for special use or purpose, that is, to make holy or sacred. I like to think of sanctification as taking the common, and using it for a holy purpose, such as the bread and wine – common and basic staples of the Hebrew diet – were set apart for a holy purpose on a single and special night as the body and blood of our Lord.
Therefore, in order to be in the world but not of the world, Jesus prays for our sanctification also; that while we are an integral part of the society around us, we recognize that we too are set apart for holy and noble purposes; God’s purpose. So perhaps, then, would that not be the point of Pentecost. Is that not the point of baptism, confirmation and ordination? For that is the point of the Christian life: to be a witness to the grace of God.
Finally, I think the overarching point of this prayer – the “other” Lord’s Prayer, is that Jesus is praying for each and every one of you, here and now, day in and day out. Jesus had care and concern and compassion for his followers in those early days of the church, and continues to do so today as he seeks to draw us more deeply to Himself and to each other. He does this in the work of the Paraclete, the comforter and advocate, whose coming we will celebrate next week at Pentecost.
If you take nothing more away from this message this morning, please know that Jesus is praying for you. He has been praying for you, and will continue to intercede to the Father – for YOU! Jesus cares about you, and Jesus is continuing to pray for you. I challenge you to go from here remembering that Jesus himself holds you – and those you love – in prayer. Thanks be to God. Amen