Reading: John 17:1–11
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
It might strike you as odd that the Three Year series assigns the prayer our Lord offered the night of His betrayal to be read in the churches on the “in-between” Sunday after Ascension and before Pentecost. But it actually makes a great deal of sense. What is our Lord doing at the right hand of the Father? What did He ascend to do? One of the important answers to that question that Scripture gives is: intercession. Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who IS at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us!” Or as the writer to the Hebrews put it: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man is mighty in its working – then you may be at great peace, for there is a righteous Man, the Lord Jesus, who does not cease to make intercession for you at the right hand of His Father.
But what is it to make intercession? Is it not to become one? Is it not to stand with another person and carry their sorrows as your own? Is it not to rejoice in their joys? Is it not as St. Paul once said: “to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep”?
Your Jesus, who is One eternally with His Father, became so One with you that He carried your sorrows as His own, your sin as His own. He stood with you before the Father and all that was yours, He made His so that all that was His He could make yours. And ascended to heaven, He is not far from you, but near. And He still bears every burden of your heart and lifts it up in union with His perfect sacrifice, begging the Father’s mercy and love upon you constantly. Could you ever hope for a greater High Priest? One whose constant vigil over you leads to constant intercession for you. He is so one with you that no sorrow of your heart, no pain, is distant from Him even now. He cries to the Father for you.
And He invites you into this life of intercession with Him. He invites you to become one with your neighbor in your neighbor’s need. What is it to open your heart to your neighbor but to take their sorrows and sins upon yourself and to intercede on their behalf? Luther once used the expression “to become little Christs to one another.”
Is there any other path to oneness than this? In the early 20th century, when the ecumenical movement was firing up the thought was if you could just assemble all Christians into one massive world wide organization then the Lord’s prayer for unity would be answered: we would be one. Do you see how shallow that turns out to be? The unity that Jesus calls us to is far, far deeper than that.
It is the unity that the saints in heaven already have been perfected in. Luther was meditating upon this great reality when he wrote these words in his commentary on John 17 on today's text: “For who can harm or injure a man who has this confidence, who knows that heaven and earth, and all the angels and the saints will cry to God when the smallest suffering befalls him?”
The medieval Church was big on asking the saints to pray for this or that thing. Luther, recall, cried to St. Anne for deliverance when caught in that horrible thunderstorm that ended up changing him and the world forever. But Luther's ah-ha in the John 17 commentary is that there is no more need of you asking the saints in heaven to pray for you any more than for you to beg the Lord Jesus to be praying for you: you know He does and that He will ever do so, and you may know that the saints whose rest is won and with whom you have "mystic sweet communion" also cry to God for you because they have been perfected in one. Love is complete in them, though it is only partial in us. And love stands as one with the neighbor in his need, takes it to heart, and bears it before the throne of God.
This is not all highfalutin mumbo-jumbo! Prayer is the path forward to oneness in the church. You take the person in your life with whom you have the greatest difficulty, the one you may even despise and hate in your heart. And you take that person into your heart and intercede for them, stand as one with them and ask God’s blessing upon them, you ask His mercy to shelter them, His love to provide for their every need, and you will see a miracle happen. You can’t hold onto bitterness or anger with those for whom you intercede. You can’t do it. Your love for them will startle you. But it shouldn’t. After all, by prayer you have been connected with them to Him who is Perfect Love; you’ve been joined to Him who prays for His enemies: “Father, forgive” and who never ceases to pray for you in every need.
Intercession, people loved by God, is the path to true oneness. And so the folks who chose the John 17 reading in these waiting days between Ascension and Pentecost, opened up to us a world of joy and hope. A path that we can follow with the Lord as we join Him in interceding and so become one. He in us. We in Him. We in each other. All of us one before the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation. Amen.