A reflection on John 17:1-11
I was two years old when I had to have my tonsils out. Back in those days they kept kids over night. The evening before the surgery my parents delivered me to the hospital, got me ready for bed, and then when visiting hours were over, they had to leave. Parents were not allowed to stay overnight. I remember standing in the crib, in my pajamas, and saying over and over “Let me out of this crib, I am not a baby!” And, when the nurses refused to let me out I started shaking the crib. In my memory, which might be faulty, I shook that crib across the room. And, at some point I managed to climb out of it. I refused the magic fairy juice, which I'm sure was intended to make me go to sleep. I have no idea how long I tormented that hospital staff, but it was daylight when I arrived, and it was long dark when I finally fell asleep. But, what I remember most clearly about that night is my uncle. My mother's only brother, and an “Elder” in the church, came to pray for me. I have a distinct memory of him laying hands on my head and praying. In my memory, I went to sleep right after. Like his prayer calmed me and soothed me to sleep.
My next memory of prayer takes place when I was in grammar school. From about first grade through sixth or seventh grade, I prayed every night before bed. I prayed for my family, and I prayed for every single person in my classroom. I went down the rows, from the first desk to the last, and prayed for each person by name. And, if I happened to know of some concern, I prayed for that too. I prayed for my teachers, too.
I'm fairly certain that I didn't pray much at all in high school, at least not consciously and intentionally. I was a contemplative kid, though. I wrote poetry, and listened to music, and pondered the world around me. Some would consider these to be prayer like activities, and perhaps they were, even though they were not intentionally prayerful.
In 1976, while a sophomore in college, I learned to meditate. Transcendental Meditation was all the rage. A center was established in my college town and I decided to learn. I've been a practitioner of meditation ever since. I even remember my “mantra” although I hardly every use it anymore. I quite enjoyed my mediation practice, and grew to appreciate it even more when I began to practice yoga. Yoga taught me other forms of mediation.
Eventually I found my way to the Episcopal Church and the Book of Common Prayer. True, my first six months or so of worship in the church were very un-worship like, as I struggled to understand the order of the prayer book, and why we flipped back and forth from one section to another. But over time I grew to love the book, and found some beautiful prayers in it. I can't tell you how many times I have prayed this prayer, found in the evening prayer:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.
And, so I learned to pray with words and became dependent on the prayerbook for the words I prayed. It wasn't until many years later that I learned about Centering Prayer, a Christian form of silent prayer, usually done in a group. And then, ordained a priest, I learned to pray with others, using words, but not always frm the prayer book. Extemporaneous prayer, making up the prayer in the moment, took some practice, but is a lovely way to pray. I think this poem from Mary Oliver helped me become comfortable with extemporaneous prayer:
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
The Gospel reading continues the story of Jesus with the disciples, on Maundy Thursday, at that final meal. Jesus is praying with and for his friends. The world, then and now, is full of challenges. And so, "it is critical that the church remind itself that it is the recipient of Jesus' prayer…that God will be present in the life and mission of the faith community," (Gail R. O'Day John, New Interpreter's Bible).
We can understand the prayer more fully if we understand what Jesus means by “glorify.”
In the Gospel of John, the incarnation is about the glory of God: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The glorification process begins in chapter 12, with Mary anointing Jesus' feet and he says: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (John 12:23). Glory (doxa) and glorify (doxazo) appear forty-two times in John, most of them in chapters 13-21. More than one-third of all NT occurrences of the verb "glorify" occur in this gospel.
The rest of the gospel unpacks this notion of glory and, more surprisingly, our own participation in it. So, here's the point: glory is about God's presence, about an intimate relationship between God and humanity, that God created this world,with the intent that all creation should be in unity with God and one another. Jesus, in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, reveals this as God's sole intention, the unity of God to all creation. The glorification of Jesus, is the uniting of Jesus to God, and therefore the uniting of us, and all creation, with God.
Jesus' prayer reminds us that the purpose of prayer is to help unite us, very intentionally to God. To build our relationship with God. To let God know our concerns, and to be quiet enough that God can speak to us. As Episcopalians, we are united with God and one another through our common worship. As individuals we hold many different values and understandings of life and politics, country, God, and faith, but gathered in worship we set aside our individual selves and become one in a community of prayer. The glorification of Jesus was for this purpose, that we all may become one body knit together in love.