In John 16, Jesus emboldens his disciples in his farewell speech by reassuring them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Now in the seventeenth chapter, Jesus turns his eyes to heaven and prays for his beloved followers. Jesus is passing the torch to the disciples. And you’d better believe that the disciples, who are overhearing the prayer, are listening closely. It reminds me of visits to my grandparents’ home as a child. My sister and I were supposed to be tucked into bed, but after a little while, we would silently tiptoe to the staircase and strain to overhear what our mother was saying about us to our grandmother.
Although Jesus prays openly about death being near, the tone of his prayer is almost joyous—he has fulfilled his calling, and the glory of his full return to unity with God as described in John’s prologue is near. In this prayer, Jesus blesses his followers by naming their preparation for this moment. The disciples have received Jesus’ words, and they are now certain of Jesus’ divinity. Jesus prays for unity among his followers, “so that they may be one, as we are one.”
The disciples could not have imagined the many streams and rivulets the Jesus movement would split into. Yet, even when John’s Gospel is written, probably in the second century ce, there are already multiple strains: Christians rooted in Judaism and those who, like the community John writes from, have separated from the mother tree to focus on the exclusive priority of Christ. Nor could the disciples have envisioned the global church today and the complexities of church and culture that call us to deeper dialogue and prayer for one another.
How do we honor the unity Jesus envisions? How might we be healers and bridge-builders to help realize Jesus’ prayer that we be one?
How is the Holy Spirit nudging you as you reflect and act upon Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the church?
Though Jesus has taught his disciples that God’s kingdom is not an earthly one, following the Resurrection some are still expecting him to set up a kingdom on earth. Instead, Jesus ascends into heaven in front of them, being taken up in the clouds. The scene recalls Psalm 68, where the Lord is described as one who rides on the clouds across the expanse of the heavens. In the Gospel reading, Jesus anticipates his coming departure and prays for his followers. Peter talks about a trial—literally a “fiery ordeal”—that is testing Christians. The reference to fire may be specific, for the Roman historian Tacitus records that Nero killed Christians in Rome by burning them alive. The author may therefore be speaking about suffering that is not just metaphorical.
Read Acts 1:6-14. When have you experienced the power of community?
Read Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35. Recall a time when you recognized God’s power with fear and joy. How might that have been a foretaste of God’s kingdom?
Read 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11. How have you walked with faith through suffering?
Read John 17:1-11. What does it mean for you or your congregation that Jesus prayed for unity among his followers?
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