Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
It is a rare and beautiful thing to overhear someone praying.
As a young boy growing up on the farm mealtime prayer was a part of our daily ritual, but leisurely meals were not, and that found expression also in the manner of the mealtime prayer. My father or grandfather would always start the prayer and we said it together but it went something like this:
Fast, run together, get through it quickly because there is work to do and pass the potatoes please…..
The meal would be consumed, and as people finished they would get up, leave the table and be off to the next thing. My dad would quite often take a short nap. My uncle would be out greasing the farm equipment for the afternoon. My mother and grandmother worked on clearing the dishes and the kids would be off to play.
My Father-in-Law’s table prayer was quite different. Influenced by Danish pietism in Minnesota, and as the head of a household of six kids where control and order was likely something to maintain, Bernard’s prayer was always punctuated by the silent command of attention. Nothing happened for the meal until the prayer was said, and all would fall silent waiting for it.
“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”
Then the meal would commence, and the food would be shared. All would eat and conversation would happen and when the meal was over, no one left the table until “return of thanks was given.’
Again, he would simply wait until everyone gave attention and fell silent, and then he would pray.
“We thank thee Lord, for meat and drink, through Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Only then did people begin to get up or leave the table, and usually only after Bernard had gotten up first.
I tell these two stories because what we are privileged to witness today is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, his prayer for us.
In many ways Jesus’ prayer may seem as foreign to you as my Father-in-law’s prayer did to me the first time I experienced it.
It was so different from my expectations, what I had “grown up with.”
Sometimes the language of the High Priestly Prayer here in John’s Gospel does not seem very “Jesus like” at all.
It does not strike us as the language of the same person who told pithy parables and who was known for his engaging dinner conversation.
It sounds so formal, so … well, complicated.
Even so, it is a rare and beautiful glimpse into two things.
The prayer tells us how much Jesus longs for us to experience the kind of unity that he experiences with God.
It tells us also about the depth of Jesus concern for his disciples, and by extension, for us.
The prayer tells us of Jesus’ longing for us to see the unity of things, how it is that everything comes from God. “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;” Jesus says, “for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”
Seeing Jesus and watching what Jesus does is like seeing God and watching what God would choose to do.
This is the point.
God is no longer unknown, and God’s ways are no longer unsearchable.
You can ask God things, sometimes quite bluntly and directly. We see that in the questions raised by the Pharisees. Jesus is not dismissive of such questions but rather eagerly engages with them.
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
“How can anyone be born after growing old?”
“Who sinned this man or his parents?”
“Why do you not observe the traditions of the elders?”
“How can I inherit eternal life?”
“Are you the Son of God?”
No question seems to be “off the table” for Jesus. He will entertain and engage them all. That is really good news because… well quite frankly, we’ve got an awful lot of questions for Jesus.
An awful lot of questions for God!
Some of them have to do with the days and circumstances in which we live.
Some of them have to do with reasons for things, and with people and how they choose to act.
Some of our questions have to do with our own motivations for doing things, and our expectations of others, and simply the logistics of life.
“What does God want us to do right now?”
If Jesus will listen to the questions thrown at him, and if seeing Jesus is seeing God, then God will listen to our questions as well.
It is o.k. to throw them out, to pepper God with them.
Now, the answer we get back may be more than we are ready to bear!
Or, the answers we get back may come in an unexpected ways. That too, is a legacy of seeing Jesus and watching him.
Sometimes answers came in the form of actions. Bodies would be healed, infirmities taken away, the hungry fed and comfort brought to those who mourn by weeping with them.
Sometimes answers came in the way of further questions that were designed to make you think or see for yourself. God did, after all, give you a brain… use it and don’t get stuck in the past or former way of doing things. “Behold, I make all things new!”
Sometimes answers came in the form of what lengths Jesus, –God incarnate, would be willing to go for the sake of others.
Would you dare to follow in the same footsteps? Love in the same way?
But in all cases, — because looking at Jesus was looking at God, you were assured that God was engaged in the here and now with your questions and with your concerns, and that God was close by.
Hearing Jesus pray for that kind unity for us, is hearing Jesus remind us that this was the promise given. God is indeed here.
The second thing that Jesus prays for is for our protection. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Unity with God and protection are interwoven and interconnected, but I’m not so sure we have understood exactly what kind of protection Jesus was praying for or offering here.
We tend to think of protection as being kept from harm, and there is an element of that. Certainly Jesus did not want harm to come to any who followed him.
But there is a cost to discipleship.
There is a cost to entertaining the kind of questions that Jesus is willing to entertain.
There is a cost to being as open and available as it appears God is willing to be with us.
The cost involves being misunderstood.
The cost involves angering some, and upsetting apple carts long thought to be immovable or unshakeable.
The cost comes in turning over tables, and speaking truth to power, and feeling the weight of opposition upon you as you call a thing by what it is and challenge long ascribed to viewpoints and assumptions.
“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” Jesus says.
All those worldly things.
All those worldly temptations.
All those worldly pressures and the ambiguities of life… those things will still be before his disciples.
They are before us.
“Protect them in your name.” Jesus prays.
Which is to say, not so much “don’t let the world get at them” as much as it is to say “don’t let the world get to them.”
The prayer here is for God to help keep God’s name and God’s gracious will and God’s gracious intent for this world ever in front of our eyes so that we do not succumb to the numbing onslaught of seeing things the way “this world” sees them.
“Protect them in your name!”
Help those disciples, … help us keep looking on this world through the eyes of God.
Help us see as God sees and to act as God has shown us how to act in Jesus.
Help us want to see this world transformed into the vision God has of the Kingdom, the one shown to us by Jesus.
Help those disciples, … help us…. have the eyes of faith, the eyes of love, the eyes of hope and the eyes that are always searching for the name of God and seeing God’s stamp on everything around us.
This is the kind of protection for which Jesus prays.
He prays that we never lose sight of what we have been shown in Christ Jesus. Light that shines in the darkness, and that darkness cannot overcome.
It is a privilege to overhear someone’s prayer, and particularly someone praying for you. Today that is our privilege as we hear Jesus pray for us.
A prayer that we would be protected from losing sight of God.
A prayer that we would feel the unity that Jesus feels, the closeness of God, even and especially when things do seem dark and the world does feel like it is getting to us.
Beloved in the Lord, this is the prayer Jesus has for you this day, a prayer of longing for us to feel the closeness of God as he does. “Protect them in your name.”