Jesus’ final ask, his final prayer, is that we may be one, as he and the Father are one.
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that they may be one.”
Some people when they hear these words, they think about creeds and doctrines. They think that Jesus is calling us all to think the same way, to say the same creeds, to agree about the teachings of the church, to end our doctrinal disagreements and theological in-fighting.
Some people when they hear these words, they think about church denominations. About structures and institutions. They think that Jesus is calling us all to be members of the same organization and to negotiate an end to our institutional differences and divisions.
But when I hear these words, I think about intimacy. I picture two people who love each other entwined in an embrace so tight that you can’t tell where one person stops and the next person begins, the two having become one flesh, just as God ordained in the beginning for marriage, a relationship of love and connection, of knowing and being known.
Of course, Jesus is not praying here about marriage or sexual intimacy. But the image of two becoming one flesh does move us much closer to what Jesus is praying for than does the image of a creed or an organizational structure.
This is an invitation to intimacy.
The South African word ‘ubuntu’ is a good word which captures something of Jesus’ desire here. Ubuntu at one level simply means ‘humanity’, but it’s deeper, richer sense can be translated by the phrase “I exist because we are.” Or as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber puts it “what makes me me is my relationship with you.”
It was about this time of year many years ago that I traveled to the Seychelles Islands to spend three months there as an intern, part of my theological training. To get ready for that posting, I took part in a 10 day orientation program. That program was for people like me who were going overseas to do various types of work for the church. We met in Toronto, but the people taking part came from all over North America. It was a great group of people, with a lot of different backgrounds and interesting stories to tell.
And I remember in particular one man from Texas. He was tall and slim, and he had that Texan accent, greeting us with a “Howdy y’all” when he entered the room. Now my Texan friend didn’t talk a lot, he was a fairly quiet guy. But as we were going through the sessions and various exercises, whenever he did speak, he almost always said the same thing. If we did a Bible study, invariably at some point he would chime in “Well, y’all know, it’s all about relationship.” If we did a session on how to work in a culture we weren’t familiar with, he’d say, “Well, it’s all about relationship”. If we were getting training on issues of poverty or justice, same thing. And y’all know what? My Texan friend was always right.
And if he’d been sitting here with us today, and he’d heard today’s gospel being read, and if we could ask him what he thought about it, I know what he would say. “It’s all about relationship.” And once more, I’m pretty sure that he’d be right.
The gospel that we just heard is not Jesus preaching or answering questions or giving instructions to his disciples. The time for all that has passed. In today’s gospel, Jesus is getting ready to go out into the night one last time on that Thursday evening of the last supper. And so the final thing he does in the company of his disciples is pray. The words we just heard read are Jesus’ prayer. He prays for his disciples, and in the passage selected for today, he prays also for “all those who will believe in me through the disciples’ word”. That is to say, the last thing that Jesus does on that evening is pray for us, for you and for me.
That in itself is pretty awesome if you think about it. I want to encourage you this morning to hear today’s gospel not as a teaching or as a story, but as a prayer. This is Jesus praying for you.
Have you ever had someone pray for you? What’s it feel like? How would you feel if the person sitting next to you this morning turned to you, and said I’d like to pray for you, and began to pray out loud?
You might feel grateful or appreciative. You might be apprehensive, wondering what your neighbour would say. You might feel a bit embarrassed or awkward. You might feel a mixture of all these things. And that, at least in part, is because prayer is an intimate experience.
And so in this intimate moment, this final moment, with Jesus on the brink of death, what is it that he prays for, what is it that he asks the Father for on our behalf?
Is it that we will believe the right things, that we will take to heart the things that he has taught us about God? No, that’s not what Jesus asks.
Is it that we will behave the right way, doing the right things, acting in the way that he has shown and instructed? No.
No, Jesus final prayer to the Father on our behalf is that we may be one, as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. He prays that we may be drawn into the same relationship of mutual love that he has with the Father, so that we may know that we are loved by the Father even as the Son is loved by the Father. He wants to draw us into the flow, that flow of love that moves without ceasing among Father, Son and Spirit.
As my Texan friend would say, “it’s all about relationship”. The reason Jesus was sent to this earth was to draw us into relationship with God and with each other.
This is Jesus’ vision for abundant life. This is his vision for eternal life. This is the most important thing. This is why he was sent:
That I may be in you and you may be in me.
Knowing and being known.
Loving one another.
That we may be
You know, when I was younger, I used to really value my independence. It was important to me to be able to get by on my own, to be strong, to do things for myself. But as I get older, I realize that my deepest longing in life is not for independence but for connection and intimacy. Connection with God, connection with others. Knowing and being known. That’s what makes for abundant life. Ubuntu – I am because we are. What makes me me, is my relationship with you.
In fact, one of the reasons that we exist as church community is to be a space, a communion, where that connection can happen. Connection with God, connection with each other. “Connecting” is one of our core values.
In his final opportunity to pray with his friends, in that final moment of intimacy, hear again what Jesus prays for on our behalf:
“I ask that they may be one. As you Father are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that they may be one as we are one, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, so that the world will know that you have loved them even as you have loved me.”
‘Cause as y’all know, it’s all about relationship.
Homily Yr C Easter 7, June 2 2019, St. Albans
Readings: Acts 16.16-34; Psalm 97; Rev 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17.20-26