Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
John’s Gospel is a little like a tangled length of cord: you know that it would be useful, if you could ever pull the mess apart! But we often think, “How can I find relevance for my life in scripture if I don’t even understand it!” So, as I tried to untie the many thoughts I had about John’s passage today, I found a little clarity in the fact that the entire reading is a prayer. John has spent the last four chapters preparing his disciples for the reality that he is going away. In all truth, His whole life and ministry has been about preparation. Now the hour of His sacrifice has arrived and he stops, before going across the Kidron Valley to begin his Passion, and he prays for His friends, as he now calls them. And in His prayer I came to realize what we are really called to be: people whose lives are actually prayers to God. What might our lives look like, feel like, and become if we began thinking of them as living prayers, through Jesus, to Almighty God?
Jesus’ life was all prayer, all the time. Now I don’t mean he was constantly, consciously at prayer, but look at what he did: He preached, healed, taught, lived and breathed God’s people. And what is prayer, really? It is connecting with the Divine source, our creator God. It is not just conversation, it is connecting our lives with the Divine life, or attempting to. And that is all Jesus did, connecting us, finally, in His sacrifice and Resurrection, in an unbreakable way to God. Now, think of ourselves as the disciples, for that is who we are called to be. And on the night before He died, Jesus prays for His disciples for the strength to live their lives, as best as they may, as living prayers, too. He acknowledged in prayer that they were given to Him by God and He gives them back to God again. He prays that they will be protected from the evil and mess of the world. He reminds them, in prayer, that they are sanctified, set apart for God and blessed by God. And, finally, he prays that they will be safe and courageous while living firmly in the world, even while they are called to be set apart. How does that actually work?
It was the day after my youngest child was born. She and Tracey were still in the hospital. Through God’s endless sense of humor, our daughter Chloe had an MRI scheduled that day; it had been scheduled for a while. So, Tracey was upstairs with Olivia and I was downstairs with Chloe, who would be sedated so that she could be still for the MRI of her brain that would ultimately tell us that she had suffered “an insult” to the brain, probably in vitro, possibly due to a loss of oxygen, and would be developmentally challenged, something we already knew in our hearts, but no one wants to hear that about their child. She was three and a half. And they wouldn’t let me stay with her. So, I was in the waiting room, which was the size of a bathroom, and was going crazy, not knowing what to do. And then I saw him, our new priest, Fr. Robert Brown, walking toward me down the long hall. And looked at me and embraced me in his large, burly arms and body. And he prayed with me. And he made me laugh. And he stayed for the whole hour during the procedure. And he came back with me and prayed with Chloe and me.
And I will forever remember that moment as a time when someone else’s life became a living prayer in mine. At a crisis, a time of doubt and frantic thought, another person who just happened to be a priest, but it could have been anyone, connected me to the reality of God’s love when I could not do it myself. And that, to me, is who Jesus calls us to be. Not to be at hospitals with people or anyone one thing, per se. Our lives, if they are to be lives of living prayer, must be lived to God. The aim of our lives must be to live in the world, in all of its mess, strain, violence, anger, and angst, while never losing sight of the fact that we are set apart by God, sanctified, given by God and to God, to be a light to the world, a prayer to and for the world. We are protected for this work by the prayer and reality of Jesus; not from harm but protected from becoming drawn too much into the madness of the world, weighted down by its sorrow, and given a source of joy.
Jesus has prepared us to be living prayers to others in the world, an open vessel through which God can pour His love, connecting us all together. Scripture and prayer are powerful reminders of to whom we belong. Prayer keeps us connected to God and, in doing so, we are available to others. Scripture reminds us that we belong to God, we are His children, and its story, if we embrace it, tells us that God desires us to be His, in spite of the cost to God – in saving us He gave up His own Son. In Christ we are sanctified, set apart and made sacred, and because of Christ’s love, we are called to offer our lives up as prayer to God in the world. God is love. Prayer reminds us that God’s love is for us and all His people. Actions in the world, in God’s name, are God’s prayer reaching out in love to move all people a little closer to Him.