Today is the final Sunday of the Easter Season in which we meditate on our Lord’s resurrection and what it means for us as disciples of Jesus.
We are back again, in the gospel of John, on the last night before Jesus was taken from his disciples. We hear his prayer for them. They got to hear Jesus pray for them.
What is the right way to pray? In other gospels we get the words of the Lord’s Prayer which many of us know by heart in one version or another. That was the answer when one person asked, how should we pray?
Here no one asks. It isn’t a lesson. Jesus talks to his disciples about what will happen, and tries to encourage them, for most of four chapters of the gospel of John. Then at the beginning of chapter 17 he no longer looks at them, but looks up, toward heaven. He starts a long prayer in which he rambles a little, repeating certain words and phrases. There is no formula here. He pours out his heart to God, and they overhear.
Jesus does not close his eyes. He does not bow his head. Ways most of us have been taught to pray. Jesus looks up as he talks to God- though he is still in that room, so he is looking up at whatever the ceiling looked like, as he prays.
In another gospel, Jesus told his disciples not to put on a show when they pray, but talk to God in secret. Yet here he is right in front of them, talking intimately to God, and asking for – well asking for quite a lot. Asking for them to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Asking that they can share completely in Jesus’ joy. Asking to keep them safe from the evil one. Asking that they may be made holy in the truth. It is a bold prayer. He doesn’t ask, however, that they never have trials or difficulties. But that they be safe in the midst of them, that it not be so much that they are removed from the path they’ve been on, but keep on becoming holy as they go.
It is not so different than telling them to remain in him like we heard about last week. Now instead of telling them, he is asking for God to protect and watch over them, so that they can keep going with the Way he has been revealing, they can keep working on the Project of Love he has been modeling for them.
I said before it wasn’t a lesson- but even as he is praying, Jesus is teaching those disciples. He is showing them that even when he isn’t visibly with them, that they will have access to God, that when there is no more to be done, you can pour your heart out to God. It isn’t about getting the words just right, memorizing a formula, or what posture you have or where you are when you pray; it is just that you can. You can let God know what your deepest desires are, and God will hear you.
I have been really blessed in recent times to see many of my, and our, prayers answered. Prayers for health, prayers for protection, prayers for transformation. But prayer isn’t always about getting the answer you wanted, I have learned that in life, too. Often it is more of the drawing into intimate relationship with God that is only possible once you have poured out your heart, again and again. It is a learning to trust and a learning to listen.
I was driving down route 43 one day and my attention was drawn to the flight of a hawk and there were two smaller birds kind of following the hawk but above it. I was like, what’s going on why would other birds be following a hawk? But, mostly keeping my eyes on the road but stealing glances- I saw one of the birds sink in the air right over the hawk, and the hawk gave a sort of flip to its wing, which I don’t think actually touched the other bird but it created a tiny little updraft so that the bird rose again in the air. Then I realized, this is a mother with her babies, she is teaching them to fly.
She got right under them so they wouldn’t crash while they were trying out their wings. She was ready to flip up a little draft to keep them up.
And I was just amazed and filled with joy at having gotten to see that sight on my commute home and it came to me that this is what prayer is like. Little adjustments, little updrafts that keep us going while we are figuring out how all of this works. Somehow we are helping keep one another in the air, by asking God to help one another in whatever it is.
I have felt the prayers of others for me at certain times in my life. Church members have shared with me that they could feel prayers of others at certain times too.
But sometimes stuff happens, too, and our prayers are not answered. Sometimes we don’t get the job promotion or the loved one we want to see get better doesn’t. and then we remember that Jesus prayed that night for them and then would face himself such awful circumstances. He would be abandoned and judged wrongly and sentenced to an excruciatingly painful death. And he is, according to this passage and others, one with the Father. Most beloved son.
And so, we know there will be suffering for all of us, especially if we are boldly proclaiming the message of God’s love that won’t let things stay the way they are, that turn over the unjust tables and scare the powerful like Jesus did. But as we contemplate all of this in the season of resurrection it becomes more clear: the evil one and what he wants to destroy, is not the most powerful one. God raised Jesus from the dead. The suffering and pain was not the end of the story, but a mere interlude on the way to glorious rising. There will be those who hate, who try to get in the way of a Project of Love and following Jesus’ Way, but they will not have the final say.
And so this is a comfort for us- when we have sorrows and anxieties, even having to let go of a loved one, that that is not the end. That our God is a God of resurrection. Of new life. Of transformation. Of, in some circumstances, helping us to get up and try again, or letting go of old pain, or trusting in the eternal life that Jesus promised we would have, to know that God is over and under and through it all, no matter what. That is resurrection giving power to our prayer.
And so we who are disciples, spiritual descendants of those who were in the room that night, we rejoice that Jesus has prayed even for us. That Jesus has shown us what we can do. In whatever posture we want to take, yes that is the right way to pray. In whatever kind of language and wording flows naturally, that is the right way to pray. Pouring out our heart to God. Thanking and asking for forgiveness and interceding and just chatting about your day, that is the right way to pray. Early in the morning or on your commute or as you fall asleep, that is the right way to pray. Alone or with a partner, in a group or at church, that is the right way to pray. In your head or out loud, even singing. With the words of Scripture or just words that feel right. In other words, there is no wrong way to pray. The important thing, Jesus shows us, is to pray.
And in praying we receive some of this assurance Jesus gave his disciples by praying for them, in praying we remember that God is with us, we grow in our relationship and trusting of God and find that God in the deepest sense is for us, cheering us on in trying to figure this all out, this project of love this way of Jesus. We are not left on our own. Thanks be to God.