Hymn 460 – Alleluia! Sing to Jesus
Intercessor, friend of sinners,
Earth’s redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless
Sweep across the crystal sea.
One of the things that most Christians do on a regular basis is pray. We might pray using formal written liturgical prayers. Or we might pray extemporaneously. We might pray with words or through silence, on our knees or in our cars. But, however we do it, we believe as Christians that prayer is an essential part of the spiritual life. In fact, here at Good Shepherd, almost every Sunday we ask that God would “make us a community of prayer and belonging.” Which means that our commitment to pray for one another is at the very heart of who we are. This is true even in the way we talk to one another. If you are going through a hard time, you might say to a friend, “Please keep me in your prayers.”
And if someone shares something difficult that is going on in their lives, we often respond by saying, “I will be praying for you.” Every week, people call and email the church office to be added to our Prayer Chain, because it is encouraging and comforting to know that people are praying for you and what’s going on in your life. So, I think we can all agree that an essential part of the life we share together as a Christian community is our commitment to pray for one another. But how often do we think about the fact that Jesus is praying for us?
Our gospel reading this morning begins with the words, “Jesus prayed for his disciples.” Now we know that Jesus prayed often. In all four gospels, we are given a glimpse into the prayer life of Jesus. He was known to go off to a deserted and solitary place to pray. On the night before he died, he prayed that somehow the events of his passion and death might yet be avoided. But today’s gospel reading is different, because Jesus is praying for his followers, and his followers are listening to his prayer. The disciples are listening to Jesus intercede for them! Can you imagine being that room? Sharing a meal with Jesus. Being the presence of Jesus. And then overhearing Jesus praying for you.
I don’t think many Christians think very often about the role of Jesus as our mediator, our advocate, the One who intercedes on our behalf. And yet, throughout the New Testament, we are told time and again that Jesus is praying for us. In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, it says, “Christ Jesus who died—and who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us.” In the First Letter of John, which we have been hearing during the season of Easter, it says, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate, a Mediator, an Intercessor with the Father, who is Jesus Christ, the Righteous.” And in the Letter to the Hebrews it says, “Jesus, who lives forever, is continually interceding on our behalf.” Over and over again, the earliest Christians found strength and hope in the fact that Jesus was praying for them.
So, what would that mean for us if we began to think of Jesus not only as the One to whom we pray, but, also as the One who prays for us? And if Jesus is praying for us, what exactly is he praying for? I think our gospel reading can help us any these questions. Because, in this pray that Jesus prays for his disciples, he is very specific about the things he is praying for.
First of all, Jesus prays for our PROTECTION. He knows that the disciples will face hardship and persecution. He knows that the disciples will face temptation and doubt and discouragement and all the things that we face as we seek to live out our faith. And so, Jesus prays for our protection. The word here literally means to guard, preserve, and keep. It’s the same we use in the traditionally blessing at the end the service when the priest prays that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding would “keep” our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God. Jesus prays for our protection.
Then he prays for our UNITY. He prays that we might be one just as he and the Father are one. He prays that we might be united as brothers and sisters. Because he knows the disciples will face the pain of division and schism. He knows that “loving one another as he has loved us” is often easier said than done. So, he prays for our oneness. He prays for interconnectedness. He prays for our unity.
Then Jesus prays for our JOY. And not only does Jesus pray for joy, but he specifically prays that his joy might be made complete in us. The word here literally means to fill up, to abound, and to overflow. And so, in the midst of a world full of sorrow and hurt. In the midst of a world broken by sin. In the face of this own impending death. Jesus prays for our joy.
Finally, Jesus prays for our HOLINESS. He prays that we might be sanctified in the truth. That we might be made holy. That we might be set apart. That our whole being might be transformed by the power of God’s love. And so, my friends, Jesus prayed and is praying for our protection. Jesus prayed and is praying for our unity. Jesus prayed and is praying for our joy. Jesus prayed and is praying for our holiness.
But these prayers are not for our sake only. Because the purpose of this prayer is to prepare the disciples to be sent into the world. Jesus is making it very clear that the mission he came to inaugurate will now be continued by his disciples in the world. He has already told them, “You will do greater things than I have done.” He has already told them that they have been chosen and anointed and appointed to go forth and bear fruit. Now, on this final night before his own death, as Jesus prepares the disciples to be sent into the world, he prays for protection, unity, joy, and holiness.
Here at Good Shepherd, we are asking that God would make us a community of prayer and belonging. But what if in the midst of praying for one another, we paused just long enough to hear Jesus praying for us?
What if in those moments when we face hardship and temptation, we could hear Jesus praying for our protection?
What if in the midst of our deep divisions and polarization, we actually listened to Jesus praying for our unity?
What if in times of depression and discouragement, we could discern the voice of Jesus praying for our joy?
And what if when we fall short of God’s vision for our lives, we could hear Jesus praying for our holiness and our wholeness?
My friends, we are gathered in this space for about one hour a week, which means we are out there in the world for the other 167 hours. And when we are out there in the world, I pledge to pray for you. And I ask that you would pray for me. But let us remember that at all times and in all places, Jesus is praying for us!