Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 16, 2021

YEAR B 2021 easter 7

Easter 7, 2021
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19
Psalm 1

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This gospel text we just heard is part of what we call the High Priestly Prayer, where Jesus prays for his disciples.  It’s a prayer that takes up the entire 17th chapter of John’s gospel.  And it’s really quite beautiful.  But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to think about what prayer is.

We’ll start with the physical side of prayer.  We tend to think of prayer as, you know, folding your hands, closing your eyes, and talking to God.  That’s how we teach our children to pray, and it’s probably how you were taught to pray.  Head bowed, eyes closed, hands folded, then you begin.  But all of those body postures are really about focusing our attention on what we are doing.  Trying to remove all distractions, so that we can concentrate on saying something to God.

And the reason I want to point that out is because it’s not like God isn’t listening to us when we don’t have our hands folded and eyes closed.  It’s not as though there’s now suddenly a connection to God that is patched through when we begin consciously praying.  God is there the whole time.  When we are praying, we are saying, “Oh, hey, I’m here now too God.”  In my own life, I have found that I have spent countless hours in prayer while driving around the country to play concerts.  And I assure you that I never once had my eyes closed or my head bowed!  Gardening, or walking, or painting a room come to mind.  We can pray without doing those specific physical things that we always associate with praying.  But I think it’s safe to say you know that intuitively already.

Okay, now on to the content of prayer.  Here again, we tend to think of how children pray.  “Dear God.  I’d like a new bicycle.  Amen.”  Cute.  But as we grow up, we start to move away from that kind of transactional prayer style.  Or, at least usually.  Instead of saying, “Dear God, I’d like a new house,” we might pray something like, “Dear God, help me be thankful for the house I have.”  (You know, on a good day.)  But still, both of those prayers are centered on ourselves.  Yes, we should pray for ourselves, of course.  Ask that God would help us become more the person God created us to be.  That God would remind us that we are loved.  That God would help us to love others as much as we are loved.

And that leads us to a thing I really want to talk about:  Praying for others.  When it comes to praying for other people, I think the most powerful prayer of all is to keep them in our thoughts, and to sincerely hope that things turn out well for them.  And this is particularly powerful when we are praying for our enemies.  Which, you’ll remember, is something Jesus specifically tells us to do.  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  And that’s why keeping them in mind is the most powerful form of prayer for them in particular.  Because when it comes to our enemies, what we really want to do is forget about them, push them out of our minds.

And that is why the childish form of prayer doesn’t really work.  Because, if I pray, “Dear God, please make Jimmy not be such a jerk.  Amen,” then I’ve done my duty, and I can get back to hating Jimmy.  But if instead I hold Jimmy in my thoughts, if I can make myself honestly want what is best for him . . . well, I don’t know if it changes Jimmy, but it definitely changes me!  I’m not saying this is easy.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m able to do it myself!  But I would say that this is the goal that Jesus has in mind for us.  That we would honestly try to hope for the best for the people we don’t like.  Hey, nobody ever said being a Christian was easy!

So, having said all that, now let’s look back at the gospel reading we just heard.  That High Priestly Prayer from Jesus.  The opening phrase is, “Jesus prayed for his disciples . . .”  Just think about that for a moment.  Jesus prays for his disciples.  He is keeping them in his thoughts, wanting what is best for them, hoping they will be protected and kept safe.  And he says that the reason he is praying aloud in front of them is this:  “I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy.”  I am saying these things aloud in front of them so that they may have my joy.

Jesus could have prayed silently for them.  In fact, I’m sure Jesus spent those three years praying silently for them every waking moment.  Holding them in his thoughts, wanting what is best for them.  And in this moment, he prays aloud, speaking these things in the world so that they may have the joy that Jesus has.  It really is an amazing and beautiful moment.  Jesus—God in the flesh—is praying for his disciples.  You and I are also disciples of Jesus.  And I am convinced this applies to us as well.  Jesus is praying for us.  God is keeping us in mind, and wanting what is best for us.  Right this moment, and in every moment.

At funerals in the Orthodox Church, they use the phrase, “memory eternal” at the close of the committal service for one who has died.  In the Western Church, we use the phrase, “eternal rest” in the same place in our liturgies.  The concept of memory eternal is that the person has passed from the memories of the living to the memory of God, which is eternal.  To be remembered by God is to live forever.  This is an ancient concept, and we see it all through the Psalms and the Old Testament.  Remember me O Lord.  O God, do not forget me.  And we heard it from the thief on the cross:  Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.  To be remembered by God is the pinnacle of human existence.  To be forgotten by God is to cease to exist.

You and I are being held in God’s thoughts every day of our lives.  Jesus is praying for you and me, just as he prayed for the disciples in that room.  And at the end of this prayer, Jesus says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  We are sent into the world just like the disciples were sent into the world.

And every day when you and I head out into the world, Jesus is keeping us in mind, praying that we will be protected, praying that we will have the joy of Jesus, and hoping that we will share that joy with everyone we meet, especially those who are the hardest for us to love and pray for.  May God give us the grace to pray for others, just as Jesus is praying for us.


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