When we think of the Lord’s Prayer we naturally think of the one we pray each week that begins, “Our Father in heaven.” But today we are focusing on what is often referred to as the high priestly prayer of Jesus. The timing of this prayer is important. It follows a series of long discourses that John’s gospel sets out beginning at chapter 13 with John’s version of the last supper. In effect this prayer of Jesus is John’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.
It begins with the words: he looked up to heaven and said. This is the Sunday that we celebrate Christ’s ascension into heaven. Jesus’ prayer to the Father anticipates that final journey after the cross and resurrection. When we tie in Luke’s account of the ascension in Acts one we find the disciples locked in their gaze toward heaven where Jesus has just disappeared. Jesus is gone and this prayer before us anticipates that departure. It is a prayer that seeks to comfort as well as to explain what is about to happen.
Notice first, that glory is a word that is repeated in this prayer. Jesus prays that the time has come when the Son will be glorified. What does this mean? At the very beginning of this gospel we read that the eternal word became flesh and the disciples saw his glory. The Greek word behind our translation, glory, means a sense of brightness, honour, but above all, it signifies God’s presence. At the birth of Jesus God’s glory shone into the faces of the shepherds. God’s presence in Jesus was a revealing of God’s glory or presence.
According to John's gospel, Jesus made divine power visible by the miraculous signs he performed. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus manifested his glory by turning water into wine at Cana (2:11); and at the end of his ministry he revealed the glory of God by calling the dead man Lazarus back to life (11:40). So the word, glory, consistently refers to the way God is made known to us. John’s gospel, as indeed the message of the entire bible, reminds us that we were created for relationship with God.
Jesus prays: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. This reminds us that eternal life is not restricted to a future in heaven, but a present reality. John, as do all biblical writers, assumes that we were created for relationship with God. To know God through Jesus is to be in relationship, one that is described here as eternal life. It is a relationship that influences every aspect of our lives and lives on beyond our death by virtue of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.
In our study of Revelation we read that when John is taken into the God dimension, or as it is described, the throne room of God, the elders surrounding the throne sang this song: O Lord our God, you deserve to receive glory and honour and power, because you created all things; because of your will they existed and were created.
Being in relationship with God has this effect on us when the curtain is removed that separates us from this other dimension. And when it happens we are reduced to awe and joy and praise. When you and me experience this material/spiritual realm dissolving into one another we experience something of what Jesus prays for here in this prayer.
It happens to us on different occasions: perhaps in nature when suddenly colour, light, beauty, shape, and sound open us to the divine around us; perhaps in a loving relationship; perhaps when we find ourselves overwhelmed by God’s glory in the silence and grandeur of a cathedral, or perhaps even here in church. Whatever and whenever this mysterious opening up happens, like John falling down the rabbit hole and into the heavenly throne room of God, it’s as if the material world that usually locks us in its grip suddenly dissolves into the spiritual reality of God’s presence and power. These moments give us a glimpse of God’s glory and confirm that eternal life that echoes within us.
Poets like William Blake experienced this sense of the divine in the material world. Stanzas like this one help us see with different eyes:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Jesus prays: And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Jesus disappears from sight. His prayer anticipates his departure. He is gone but we are in the world. We are to carry on his work on earth. But the disciples are frozen in place as they gaze up to where Jesus disappeared. Two angels suddenly appear beside them and ask, what are you staring up there for? What you looking at, in other words. In other words, you have work to do. Don’t stand around gazing into heaven, get to work.
It may feel at times that God is absent from our lives, from our churches, from our world. And it’s o/k to feel that. It’s natural to feel God’s absence. But Jesus’ prayer reminds us that he is our high priest and he is praying for us. He prays that God will protect us in the world as we seek to do justice, love truth, show mercy, feed the hungry, share with the poor, show love to the unloved. He is gone but his spirit is present with us in the Holy Spirit. He is coming again, the angels told them. Perhaps this is a reference to the coming of the Spirit that we celebrate next Sunday with Pentecost. The Spirit lives in the body of Christ across the world and in that sense we are one. We are Christ’s presence in the world. So let’s be that and do that and live that presence.