Pray with me.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Many of you have children. When you had your first child and became a parent, no one gave you an instruction book. I am reminded of the film that came out in the late 80s called Parenthood with Steve Martin. Steve’s character and his wife Mary Steenburgen have another couple over one afternoon for lunch. Steve’s little boy comes stumbling into the kitchen with a bucket on his head. The little boy missed the hallway and hit the wall instead. Oblivious to the notion that he could actually take the bucket off his head and see his way down the hall, he continued to bonk his bucket-covered head against the wall. The visiting couple, unsure whether to hysterically laugh or help this little mess, look to Steve and Mary, and Mary just shrugs her shoulders and says, “He likes to butt things with his head.”
As a new parent, you had your instincts. You watched your precious little one and learned the different tones in his cries and the nuances of her noises, and you memorized every facial expression . You watched the clock between feedings and changings. You rocked and paced and fretted when your little one wouldn’t sleep or eat or rest. Instead, he just cried…endlessly…at a shocking decibel level. Finally, at your wits end, exhausted, emotionally drained, you needed help. Desperately. You chose the one person who you knew could help you, comfort you, advise you, lift you up: you called your mother, your aunt, or maybe your grandmother. This person knew you and listened to you and helped to bear your needs of that moment with you. And in that moment of need, the connection you shared was strengthened all the more.
Hold that thought for a moment. We need to pause here and observe our Gospel in context. In the liturgical year, we’ve had Easter. Christ has died; Christ is risen. But in our Gospel for today we have a flashback to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane as He is in communion with His Father regarding the immanent events of the next four days. It is in this Garden, in this conversation between the Son of God and God Himself that we bear witness to several amazing points. And it is in this engagement between Son and Father that offers another layer to Pentecost which will occur next week.
Fr. John spoke last week in the Gospel reading from John 15, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you…” We were reminded that we are chosen. Not corporately. Not collectively. But specifically. Individually. Our Gospel this week builds upon the layer that was set last week. Last week Christ confirms that He chose the disciples. Now, we see Christ interceding for the disciples to the Holy Father.
I was at work this week in the gardening section of the store. The garden area was very busy with customers, chatter, kids running around, your typical springtime. And let me just say my curly hair is NOT used to this Oklahoma humidity! These last days, I’m not a fan! Anyway, I saw a little girl about 5 years old carrying a small plant in a purple pot and was walking towards me. Her hair was mussed up and her skirt was on inside out. But she had a look of determination on her face while she carefully walked and carried her little plant. All of a sudden she yelled out, “Mom! Mom!” I giggled to myself at her boldness, and yet no one around seemed surprised by a small girl yelling out. And at the very back of the far corner of the garden I heard a response: “Honey, Back here! I’m back here!” I was stunned that through all the static noise of the store, that mother heard a voice and recognized that call as her own child. What also amazed me was the confidence of the little girl…she knew she could yell out for her mother — even in the middle of a busy store — and her mother would answer. Such faith!
I think on that event from this last week and how it gives example to the connection between Jesus and God the Father in our reading. We witness the intimacy of the relationship from Jesus to His Father. This intimacy we can see echoed as you mothers and fathers called out to your parent or grandparent during those times when your own child was in need. During those times, your bonds were strengthened. In the same manner, Christ speaks to the Father regarding His work here on earth, and we see the power of their relationship. He has done all that the Father desired. He has given all to the disciples, and He acknowledges that He has fulfilled what God wanted.
And I also hear in Christ’s words the faith that He has in His disciples: Listen to what He says: “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that you sent me.” Jesus had confidence in his disciples. He did not doubt them. And He confirmed that confidence to His Father! He spoke to God the Father on behalf of His disciples. These very men who walked and ate and traveled with Christ were so human. They were afraid. They couldn’t stay awake. They doubted. They failed to pray. They chastised the children and rebuked the lepers. They were selfish. They were flawed. But it was these very men that Christ presented to the Holy Father in prayer. He continues to speak on their behalf and again we witness such intimacy between the Son and the Father when Jesus says, “keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.”
Here we add another layer to what we witness in the Garden. We see a new dimension to the conversation. It is these words of Christ that also speak to me quite distinctly. There is a bond, a connection, a unification, a same-ness of relationship. He draws a parallel here: Christ and the Father are one — as is in our Creed that states: “of one Being with the Father” — and in the same way the disciples together are one.
What does this mean: The disciples are one? It means that they were called specifically by Christ to follow Him. It means they studied under Him and followed Him. It means they questioned Him and learned from Him. It means they believed in Him and trusted Him. And in that life together with Christ, they were one. But Janie, you say, you keep speaking of the disciples. What does this mean for me?? True, our Gospel speaks of the disciples. And yet we all are called by God to follow Him, He has knit us in our mother’s womb, and we are known to Him. We are the disciples, and we are one body as Christ’s church. Our Vestry. Our choir. Our acolytes. Our congregation here of St. Matthew’s is one in Christ. All of these moving parts are one. Will we always agree? No. Will we bicker? Most certainly. Let us see and understand the fullness of our Gospel: Christ prays knowing full well we will sometimes fail. Christ prays for us to be one — one holy catholic and apostolic church.
Stay with me here as there is a little more. Christ moves on in His prayer by saying that He does not want His Father to take the disciples out of the world. On the contrary, Christ states that while He wants them to remain in the world He wishes that His Father “keep them from the evil one.” But what does that mean? Keep the disciples from Satan? Is that what Christ wants — for the Holy Father to keep them safe from Satan? In a way, I believe so. It seems to me that Jesus desires that the disciples should be kept from the manipulations of the evil one. So what do those manipulations look like? Well, despair, anger, gossip, resentment, indifference, procrastination. I could go on until suppertime. The image I want to impress is this: Christ has been with these men day and night and has shared every portion of His being with them. And now, on the eve of His crucifixion, He prays to God the Father that His men are kept safe from the evil one, safe from the schemes and traps that the evil one designs. Christ prays that we are kept from the manipulations of the evil one. He prays that we may be sanctified as He is sanctified. As is in our Eucharistic Prayer, “He sent the Holy Spirit, His own first gift for those who believe, to complete His work in the world, and to bring fulfillment the sanctification of all.” Oh! Wait a minute! That’s the sending of the Holy Spirit. That’s next week’s sermon.
The Son of God and God the Father share such an intimate bond in our Gospel reading for today. We witness the call of Christ as He prays for the disciples to the Father. Prays for God to know them, to unify them together, and to sanctify them through Christ His Son. And when that fluffy haired little girl cradling her precious plant finally found her mother, the mom listened to her daughter with love and devotion. I pray that we, Christ’s church, consider this bond and know that Christ continues to pray for us. And I also pray that we may have faith that God our Father knows us, brings us together, and sanctifies us through His Beloved Son.