Throughout the Gospels there are many times that Jesus prays. The most well-known is what has become the Lord’s Prayer. There is also the prayer in the garden of Gethsemane—the prayer where Jesus asks God to take away this “cup,” the suffering that is to come. John tells of another prayer Jesus prays for his followers.
Imagine we are there. We are gathered in a room where Jesus has come to share in the Passover meal, where Jesus has washed their feet, and where Jesus has given them a new commandment to love one another as he loves them. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, the Advocate will be given to them and they need not be afraid. He reminds them they trust God and they can trust him. Jesus is not only preparing the disciples but also preparing himself for what lies ahead as the evening turns to the dark night of betrayal. Then he prays for them.
“I ask not only on behalf of these followers, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus speaks deeply, intimately with his Father and our God. And he does so within the hearing of the disciples. Jesus wants them to hear this prayer. Jesus knows they will need to remember this prayer in the days ahead. Jesus knows he will need this prayer to help him stay the course. He prays as if he is sitting across the table from God, pouring out his heart, like an intimate conversation between two friends.
Jesus prays knowing he has done all he can. He asks God to continue his work through this band of disciples Jesus has come to love. He asks God to entrust the future of God’s work to these followers.
Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John is the culmination of his having nurtured his own relationship to God during his human life. Jesus was fully awake to the presence of God no matter where he was or what he was doing. Jesus loved God. It wasn’t that he prayed the right words or at the right time. It wasn’t that he had everything figured out. It wasn’t any of the things we worry about with prayer. It was deep, unshakable love.
I wonder what that moment felt like for the disciples—hearing their friend pray for them as equals, asking God to be there for them. As a pastor I often pray with people—it’s not that my prayers get to God any faster or are any more effective. I just get a lot of practice. When I first became a pastor, I learned how powerful it is to have someone pray for you. I was visiting a woman in the hospital and I offered a prayer for her. I had no more said amen when she said, “Now, Barbara, I’m going to pray for you.” Here I was supposed to be bringing her support and she was praying for me. I don’t really remember what she said, but I remember how good it felt. That moment shaped me as a pastor in a profound way and still moves me yet today. Can you recall a time when someone prayed for you?
Jesus loved God with all his heart. He also loved his followers in an ancient time and place, and loves us yet today. This prayer is not only for those who followed him to the cross, but for all of those who would follow in the years to come. Today Jesus prays for us. “And I ask not only on behalf of St. John Church, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through this congregation’s word, that they may all be one.”
Jesus prays for us when we are weak, fills our cup when we are dry, helps us to rise again.