You can count on one hand the number of times the gospels draw us near to the inward spiritual life of Jesus. Usually we only get hints that come in brief asides, such as “he went to a quiet place to pray.” But there are more explicit scenes that come to mind.
-His weeping for Jerusalem (Luke 19).
-His agony in the garden of Gethsemane, “Take this cup from me” (Mark 14).
Certainly, as he hangs dying on the cross, with Psalm 22 on his lips, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And we know the rest of the words by heart: “I cry by day but you do not answer, and by night but find no rest.” If all we had of Jesus’ prayer life was these things, it would be permission enough to be honest to God with our deepest pain.
But if we listen carefully in John 17, we hear the inner dialogue of Jesus’ spiritual life so clearly that it challenges us and changes us for good. He has been speaking with his disciples up until now. He has washed their feet, instructed them to prepare for his departure and to live their lives in a new way after he is gone. But now, in the same way that Moses ended his final instructions to Israel with a glorious prayer to God, so Jesus turns his attention from his disciples and speaks directly to God. This is no ordinary prayer.
As he lifts his eyes to heaven, Jesus draws on everything he has been saying throughout his ministry. He prays like one who knows that this moment is the crossing-over point of his life. So, he speaks the words that matter most. In the Gospel of John, we don’t see Jesus ascend to God in the clouds, as Luke tells it. We get the ascension of his remarkable prayer.
I don’t know about you, but when I have come to important moments in my life, I have often been at a loss for words. It doesn’t mean I stop talking; it just means my words may not make a lot of sense.
Jesus’ prayer can sound repetitive and strange to our ears, until we put ourselves in his sandals and look to God through his eyes. Over the course of his ministry, Jesus has been about one purpose: drawing God’s people into God’s love. God’s people, he is constantly telling us, are one flock. And he is our shepherd, our gate. We are branches of the one vine. We are supposed to be light for the world! He promises to come alongside us and encourages us to “Love one another as I have loved you.”
And so, as his life comes to its dramatic purpose, he prays to God on high that his followers will love themselves and others as he has loved them, for God is love.
Here we are on Mothers’ Day, a beautiful day for many and a complicated day for many more. It’s good to remember, I think, that Mothers’ Day was founded in the aftermath of the Civil War by Julia Ward Howe for mothers of fallen soldiers to march for peace, to march for racial reconciliation, and for the equal rights of women. Her original vision for this day wasn’t breakfast in bed with a bouquet of flowers. It was the unity of humankind on earth.
This is Jesus’ prayerful vision: the unity of humankind on earth sharing in the transforming power of the love of God.
I know today many of us are keenly aware of our joys and our disappointments, of our successes and failures. My hope is that we will find some comfort in the prayer life of Jesus, who, at the end of his life when his greatest fear is that God’s people will become fragmented and scattered to the winds, prays for love. He prays that love will bring joy. He prays that love will bring peace. He prays that God’s love will make us one.
Rev. David Cobb, BCC
Director of Spiritual Health
Director of Community Relations
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