INTRO We have explored the Farewell discourses of Jesus to His disciples: a repeated call to Love be the hall mark and witness of the community of disciples; a repeated promise of the Holy Spirit pouring love, courage and the Truth into their lives; and assurance that in the midst of persecution (both Jesus and theirs) the victory is won and Jesus has ‘overcome the world’ (John 16: 33)! Faith that Jesus is sent by the Father to win the victory through the ‘Perfect Love’ of the Cross (and in no other way!) will be their victory too! (John 16: 32-33). In this Faith they will find the peace that the world cannot give – and therefore also cannot take away! The Holy Spirit leads us into all Truth, gives us courage, binds us together in divine love and is the rock of our peace – the Promise of Jesus to His disciples – us – and the ‘signs’ that he is risen and alive among us and within us! So now we explore today the great Chapter 17 – the so-called ‘High Priestly Prayer of Jesus’.

[1] ‘Father, the Hour has come: glorify your Son…’ (John 17: 1) This majestic prayer gathers into prayer the fundamental themes of the Gospel: Jesus’ relationship with the Father, the hour of glory (which is the Cross), life that comes from ‘knowing’ God and the One He has sent, the close bonds between Jesus and his disciples, the reality of betrayal, the Word Jesus is which is passed on to His disciples to proclaim, the hostility of the world to the ‘perfect love’ that is Jesus, the Word that consecrates his followers, the on-going unity of His community which is the love and faith that witnesses to the world, His injunction that the community should be ‘where He is’ – and above all the constant primacy of love for the Johannine community. 

[2] The prayer begins with Jesus returning to the Father through passing through the ‘glory’  of the Cross. In the self-abandonment that is shortly to come (for the ‘hour has come’) is the perfection of love in the divine humanity of the Word made Flesh. Jesus is not some perfected human being, but the pre-existent Word of the Prologue made totally human (Father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world was’ John 17: 5). He does not simply go to God, He comes from God – He is the eternal Gift of the Father to the world, given because God so loves the world (John 3: 16). The Mission of the Word that is the human event that is Jesus is nothing but love: love that speaks Truth, love that give life, love that transforms life, love that gathers a community of Love to be the Sacrament of Divine Love in the heart and journey of the world. 

[3] Jesus the Word gives the life-giving Word to the community of His disciples so that they can continue the Mission of Love (John 17: 6-19). As He returns to the Father so He sends (missions) this community, the Vine, the Flock, the ‘reborn’ into the same hostile world that crucified Him. He can because now they believe, now ‘they are consecrated in truth’ (John 17: 19). Jesus consecration is the Cross, but His community is born from the side of Christ pierced on that Cross, born out of the blood and water (like every human birth) that flows from the Crucified One (John 19: 34). Reborn in Him, we have this same ‘Perfected Love’ of total self-offering, total self-giving, and therefore can fulfil the same mission and do the same works (greater works even! John13: 12). We are now the Vine that He is (or as Paul would say – the Body of Christ).  We are filled with Jesus’s Breath (Hebrew ‘ruah’) – the Holy Spirit the Paraclete.  That is our consecration, the ‘seal’ of the Spirit – the breath, the blood, the water from the Cross. This consecration is Jesus’ choice of us ‘withdrawing us from the world’ as Jesus is not of this world – but in order to immerse us (like the Word made Flesh)  in commitment to building a different world, the ‘New Heaven and New Earth’ where ‘all things are made New’ (Revelations 21: 5). When the Bishop or priest anoints with Chrism those being confirmed while saying ‘be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit’, we are being consecrated by the Crucified One for witness in the ‘hostile world’. As the martyred Archbishop, St Oscar Romero, preached at a Confirmation Mass in El Salvador, ‘If necessary, may confirmation become for us a Sacrament of Martyrdom. May we too be ready to give our lives for Christ’. This is why Jesus says emphatically in this prayer , ‘I pray for them; I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me’ (John 17: 9) … and not only for those gathered around the Table of that Passover Eucharist, ‘but also for those who through their words will believe in me’ (John 17: 20). Jesus is praying for us today in the 21st century.

[3] ‘May they all be one, as you are in me and I am in you so that the world might believe’ (John 17: 21). The Johannine Community were convinced that Love was primary before everything else (the only command Jesus gives before the Cross, and the threefold question to Peter after the Resurrection). Yet again Love is the climax – this prayer of Jesus  leads to his plea for unity among all Christians that echoes down the centuries to our shame. We have not lovingly sacrificed for unity but rather we have sacrificed unity for power. How much more the world would believe if we were truly One!  And one of the contemporary scandals of today’s Church is our lack of passion for unity, our lack of commitment to healing the wounds of division in the Church, our reluctance or apathy to stand with our sisters and brothers of other Christian traditions and proclaim the Gospel and serve coming of the  Kingdom. We do not love another as He has loved us and so hide the Gospel and rob the Word of power to change the world. This our betrayal of Jesus, our denial of Jesus, our desertion of Jesus! But Jesus is still praying for us, for the Church, and still pleads with us that we so love one another as to be One – visibly One as a Sacrament of the God who is Love, bearer of Love’s creative and transforming Word.

AFTERWORD ‘To be a Christian today means to have the courage to proclaim the true teaching of Christ and not to be afraid, not to be silent out of fear … To be a Christian in these days means to have the courage that the Holy Spirit gives in his Sacrament of Confirmation, … Beginning with me, the bishop, may this morning be for us a renewal of the Holy Spirit, of courage that we must have as Christians. And if necessary, may confirmation become for us a Sacrament of Martyrdom. May we too be ready to give our lives for Christ.”

(St Oscar Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass on 24th March 1980)

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