The feast of the Ascension has come and gone. As we approach the conclusion of the Paschal season with Pentecost Sunday being the eighth Sunday of Pascha we mark the intervening Sunday by a reading from chapter 17, the Prayer of the Departing Jesus.
This excerpt is the prayer that Jesus prays as a farewell to his disciples. The prayer aptly fits a liturgical event which marks the return of Jesus to be once again with his heavenly Father.
The prayer form does not exclude further instruction from Jesus before his departure. Jesus becomes priest-like as he addresses his Father and includes a number of elements. Initially there is the now familiar element of the mutual glorification of the Father and the Son. There is also prayer for the people the Father gave him from the world. “Keep them in your name.” With this phrase this reading abruptly concludes.
We need to be aware that this reading is simultaneously a prayer, a profession of faith and a revelation. The prayer moves in stages. Jesus prays for himself then he prays for the foundational disciples. Central to the prayer is the desire to make God known. That has been the central theme of Jesus’ ministry and it remains central to the mission which he leaves for his disciples to complete. That is why he leaves his ongoing love as a gift to his ever so fragile disciples. These are the ones presented to the Father as the worthy successors of Jesus, fragile though they be.
Jesus asks his Father, with whom he has always been united, to be Father to them, and to care for them and keep them safe in the hostile world, just as he himself did while he was with them. They are not of the world just as Jesus is not of the world.
We are invited to contemplate the eschatological (or future) possibility of life with God.
It is then that Jesus asks his “holy Father” to make the disciples holy so that they may perform the same mission of sanctification as did Jesus.
Both the disciples in this story of farewell and we the readers of the Johannine Farewell Prayer of Jesus participate by standing on the outside overhearing over-hearing his prayer, on the eve of his death.
Theological themes stand at the fore. Firstly we have Jesus speaking to God on behalf of the faith community. Secondly we over-hear the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God. Thirdly we are given a glimpse of life with God that transcends conventional limits and expectations. We are invited to contemplate the eschatological (or future) possibility of life with God. The prayer points us to a future in which God’s governance and care is complete.
Fr Brian Kelty, PhD