A Lectionary Reflection on John 17:20-26, for 7th Sunday of Easter Yr C

This pericope is often referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It is, for the most part, an intercessory prayer for others, and also the conclusion of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples, preparing them for his imminent suffering, death and resurrection (John 13:1-17:26).

Image credit: Jesus prayed for me at LivingLutheran.org

In verse 20, Jesus is praying for all of his would-be followers beyond the first generation of disciples, right up to the present day and into the future: “I ask not only on behalf of these (i.e. his first disciples), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” Here Jesus suggests the power not only of his intercessory prayer for all of his followers throughout history; as well as the process by which people will come to believe—“through their word,” (i.e. the preaching and teaching of God’s word, which, combined with the activity of the Holy Spirit works faith within the hearts and minds of people).

Another significant theme in this prayer is an emphasis on the unity of Christians with one another; which Jesus prays for in verse 21 and develops this particular intercession further by saying that such a unity is rooted in God’s own Self: “As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Again such an emphasis highlights that unity is a gift of God’s grace, it always originates from God through Jesus to us. However, this unity is not unity for its own sake. No! Jesus states the ultimate purpose of Christian unity: “that the world (not merely a few privileged folks) may know that you (i.e. God the Parent-Creator) have sent me.” Jesus repeats this emphasis on unity in slightly different words, and then repeats the purpose of unity as well with an important addition: “that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” This addition, of course, is consistent with the larger schema of the Fourth Gospel, which emphasises God’s all-inclusive love for the world made incarnate through Jesus. After Jesus is raised from the dead and ascends into heaven, the incarnation—albeit imperfect because we are all sinners—is present in the world through loving servanthood of Jesus’ followers who have been given the in-dwelling Holy Spirit.

Jesus also prays that his followers would be with him “where I am,” which may refer to either his imminent suffering and death on the cross or his resurrected and ascended state in heaven or perhaps both. He asks for his followers to be with him where he is “to see my glory,” and again “my glory” may refer to at least two or more meanings—his suffering and death on the cross and/or his resurrected and ascended state in heaven.

The concluding intercession focusses on knowing God the Parent-Creator and Jesus as well as knowing God’s name, which is closely connected to the gift of God’s love dwelling in all of Jesus’ followers.

There are many homiletic possibilities based on this pericope. One may be to explore what it means to pray today in the life and faith journey of Jesus-followers. How does Jesus’ high priestly prayer inspire and influence our prayers today? Are there visible signs of Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity among Christians of various denominations today? If so, where are they, and how do we rejoice in Jesus’ prayer becoming a reality for us today?

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Today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins

Today, January 18, marks the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In North America, it always begins on this date, when we celebrate the Confession of Peter, and the week ends on January 25 when we celebrate the Conversion of Paul. In between, on January 20, we remember the twentieth century martyr, Martin Luther King Jr.

This year’s theme is titled: “Is Christ divided?” It is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-17, the apostle Paul’s appeal to the church at Corinth struggling with divisions. In his appeal, Paul urges the church to live in koinonia-translated into English as fellowship, but also can mean community/communion, and refer to a sense of unity. Of course for Paul, and for all Christians, unity is God’s gift of faithfulness vis-a-vis baptism and the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Our response and calling is to make visible unity a reality in the church and world; which is an ever and ongoing process under the leading of the Holy Spirit until such time as Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John chapter seventeen becomes a reality.

In the meantime, we take small steps of faith on the journey towards full unity. This year’s materials for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by a Canadian team comprised of participants from various denominations-sad to say, I don’t see any mention of Lutherans, and I wonder why? At any rate, if you follow this link to one of the pages on the World Council of Churches website, you will see a link there to a PDF document, click on it, and you can download it for either personal, parish or ecumenical services, prayers and devotions: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/wcc-commissions/faith-and-order-commission/xi-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/2014

ON ANOTHER MATTER, PLEASE NOTE: I am continuing to evaluate whether or not I am going to keep this blog active or shut it down, which means, as I stated in the previous post, I shall likely be posting only sporadically.