Sermon for Easter 7 Year B 2015
Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
United yet different
John 17 is sometimes known as the High Priestly Prayer of the Prayer of Consecration.
It’s a bit strange that this prayer, the longest of Jesus recorded, appears in John’s gospel which probably is the gospel where prayer features least. It’s also a gospel where the Lord’s Prayer does not appear. But this prayer of Jesus has many echoes of the Lord’s Prayer contained within it. So much so that one New Testament commentator, Tom Wright, has referred to it as ‘…an expanded paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer’.
The holiness (hallowedness) of the Father who is in heaven, the desire for the Kingdom to come on earth, the request that we be given the resources we need to do God’s work, protection from temptation and evil, and the desire to see God’s glory revealed in an eternal dimension.
It’s the longest of Jesus’ prayers we have recorded and whilst it’s looking forward to the cross it’s not done so with a sense of doom and gloom but with a sense of confidence and assurance, of someone who has overcome the world.
And that’s not surprising because it encapsulated the consummation of Christ’s work here on earth.
In the human view the cross to which Jesus now looks was the instrument and symbol of shame, but in God’s perspective it was the means of glory. A symbol not of defeat, but of ultimate victory.
It marks the end of Jesus’ earthy ministry, from now on this will be the work of the disciples and therefore Jesus prays for them as they assume this mantle and responsibility.
Up to now John has been telling us the time is not right. Now he says the time has come. We are in a different place in John’s gospel and the pace and tone change significantly.
There are several elements and themes which run through Jesus’ prayer.
There is the theme of glory, and Jesus says that Glory has come to him through the disciples.
There is also the theme of the word of God. Jesus has given the disciples the words the Father gave Him and they have accepted them.
But perhaps the key theme and the one with underpins them all is that of unity. Jesus prays that the disciples will be protected not for their own sake, but so that they can be united as they pick up the mantle of continuing His ministry on earth.
‘Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.’ Jn 17 v 11
This is not a unity borne out of homogeneity, of vanilla expression of thought, of sameness. It’s not a unity of mindless and unthinking obedience to a set of precepts and rules.
It’s a unity based on their unique individuality and each person having the genuine attitude of having God live in them and each one of them lining in God. This is the unity they have seem visibly demonstrated by Jesus and His Father. They have demonstrated what this unity means for them and the world.
Jesus prays not that they will ‘become one’ but that they will live out the unity that they already are experiencing and ‘continue to be one’.
It’s that same unity which God calls all of his believers into. We will have different opinions, different understandings, and different experiences. But it is not our opinions, understandings or experiences that give us unity or make us one. It’s our relationship with God through Christ which makes us one and as we live out the unity with the Father through Christ, one of the outcomes is the unity we have with each other.
Christ does not want to make us all the same in terms of what we think and do. He wants and needs our individuality. Unity is not about surrendering individuality, it’s about living that individuality out with others who are similarly committed to living out individuality, in unity with God and each other.
Living out the words, the entire message of the gospel, which they have been given, and as they do so they will have the full measure of joy within them.
Some have said the mission and the life of Church itself is marked out by the themes of the prayer. Reflecting the glory of God, living out the word and message of God, demonstrating and expressing the joy of God and being seen as a people united in the love of Go and how this is shown to the world and those around us.
But without unity it is difficult to live out and express and reflect the marks of glory, or to live out the word, the message of God and His Saviour Jesus and be joyful in the Lord.
Because in our unity we are reflecting the unity that Christ Himself had with the father.
The mission and life of Christ form the pattern and mission and life of the disciples and the mission and life of the disciples form the mission and pattern of life for each of Christ’s followers down the ages to ourselves.
All are modelled on the unity we see demonstrated between Jesus and the Father and we will come to see in the unity of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, who Jesus leaves with all believers, not just the disciples for whom He prays in this prayer today,