Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Pascha 2017

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

The moment of Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution is fast approaching. Jesus has finished teaching His disciples. The hour has come. His work on earth is complete. So complete, in fact, that he can say with confidence at the end of Chapter 16: “Take courage, I have conquered the world.’ And then he turns to prayer.

Notice that John chooses to bring us a report of this prayer, given in the upper before they go to Gethsemane, rather than the prayer of anguish in the garden that we find in the other Gospels. Why does he do that? Well, it may be that this prayer serves in some way as a summary of all that has gone before in this Gospel. Here we find Jesus’ obedience to the Father, the glorification of His Father through His death and resurrection; the revelation of God in Jesus Christ; the choosing of the disciples out of this world; their unity modelled on the unity of the Holy Trinity: father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and the promise that their final destiny is to share in the glory of the Father and the Son in eternity. It is as though this is the final crescendo, the final movement in a gospel that shows us Christ dwelling among us as one of us, but returning to God and taking us with Him, a crescendo that climaxes with the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus can say with confidence that he has overcome the world, yet he turns in the next breath to prayer, to ask God to bring Him the victory. In fact, the prayer He prays is divided into three parts. First, He prays for Himself. Then He prays for the disciples. Finally, He prays for all those who will come to believe in Him through their testimony.

Now, as we go through this prayer, I want you to notice two things. First. Notice how Jesus’ priorities are reflected in the things He prays for. You may have found this to be true for you. When you find yourself under stress, it happens that you find yourself thinking about the things that really matter. So it is with Jesus as He prays, knowing that the end is near. But notice also how the way Jesus prays can be a model for us in our prayer life. We will see in a moment how He prays for Himself, then how He prays for those He has been ministering to, and finally, how He has a long term view in mind as well as He prays.

Jesus has just finished saying that He has overcome the world, and now He stops to pray.. And the first thing He prays is that God would glorify Him. Now at first sight, this sounds like a fairly self-serving prayer. But in order to understand what He is asking, we need to think about what is involved in Jesus being glorified. In fact, He has already talked about being glorified back in Chapter 12. You may remember how when some Greeks cane to see Him, Jesus recognized it as a sign that the end had come. So he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24). Then He says, “Now My soul is troubled. And what should I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” (John 12:27-28).

Jesus’ glorification will first involve His death on the cross, with all its agony and shame. Jesus is to be hung on a cross, as a sign that he is cursed by God. As St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians: “Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Jesus asks God to glorify Him, first of all, because only God is able to do it. Jesus has given up everything that might have enabled Him to do it Himself, and now is turning to God, to restore to Him what which is rightly His.

But He is also asking God to vindicate Him, to show that His claims are true. He says God has given Him authority to give eternal life to all whom God has given Him, but before that can happen, he needs to be shone to be righteous. He needs to be restored to the glory He had before the world began. Even as He is asking for God to glorify Him, notice that His mind is on God’s plan to bring salvation to those God had given Him. His request for glory is simply to fulfill God’s eternal plan to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ. What is more, as He asks, His greatest reason for asking is so that He night glorify the Father. This is the most significant thing that characterizes all of His ministry on earth. He has come to glorify the Father.

I wonder if this is what our prayers are like when we pray for ourselves or for our Church. When you pray for yourself, are you asking God to bring about His own glory through the things that you do or are you just thinking about yourself? Are you placing yourself in God’s plan for the world, so that the things God does through you will bring forward His plan of salvation for the whole world? I am afraid that too often I find myself praying that sort of prayer with motives that are very mixed; seeking my own glory or my own ends, for my own sake, rather for the sake of God and His glory.

But such is not the case with Jesus. He does not consider Himself but only those things that end in the salvation of all people and the greater glory of the Father. This should be our goal as well, beloved. We should always seek to do those things which glorify God and not ourselves.

After Jesus prays for Himself, His thoughts then move naturally to those that the Father has given Him. There is a close bond between the disciples and Jesus that comes out very clearly and that forms the basis of His prayer. “I have made Your name known to those whom You gave me from the world. They were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” It is as though Jesus sees the disciples as His special charges; as though God has entrusted them to Him, like a foster parent might be given the responsibility of raising someone else’s children. Thus we hear Jesus say: “I have fulfilled Your charge to Me. I have made You known to them. They have believed My word. They now know that what I have comes from You.” Notice how Jesus repeats those words: ‘Now they know,” ‘They know in truth,’ ‘They have received them,’ and ‘They have believed.’ There is certainly a distinctly special relationship between Jesus and His disciples based on the way they received God’s words.

So Jesus prays for them, for those that the Father has given Him, because they also belong to the Father. And what does He pray? “Holy Father, protect them in Your name those whom You have given to Me.” He first prays for the father’s protection. Remember back to Holy Thursday, to Jesus’ farewell discourse, of which this morning’s Gospel reading is a part, when He said that He would not leave them orphans. One of the dangers for orphans in that sort of society was that they were oftentimes defenceless. They had no one to protect them from people who would seek to do them harm. Sadly, the same holds true for many children today who find themselves without a mother and father. So Jesus prays that God the Father would take over the role of protecting them from the dangers of living in this world.

And notice what it is that they need to be protected from. Jesus says, “Protect them in Your name whom You have given to Me, so that they may be one, as We are one.” Jesus has already given them His new commandment that they love another as He has loved them. In fact, He said it three times. One of the reasons that He gave that command was that only by loving one are we able to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The greatest danger for the disciples was that they would be broken apart by division. The same is true for us today. If we do not love one another, then we shall not dwell in peace. How clearly do we see that in many parts of the world today? Sadly, we even know this to be true in our own community.

I think that is why Jesus had to say it three times, because it is such a danger. And the lack of love is not just a danger for us individually or as a community, it is also a danger for the Church. Where love is absent, we get sidetracked and forget about giving God glory by how we live our lives. As I mentioned earlier, we must concern ourselves always with glorifying God.

The unity we have with each other and with Jesus is a sign to the world that He was indeed sent by the Father and that they are loved by the Father. So, our unity as the People of God, as the Church, gives glory to God and our unity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God also brings Him glory. What is more, the unity of the disciples and our unity today with each other is a necessity so that none fall away. Jesus was the tie that bound the disciples together, but as He was about to leave them, they needed the Father’s help to stay together, so that they could support one another. They also needed the Father’s protection against the attacks of the evil one. Jesus had no doubts that any opposition they would face would come from Satan.

While Jesus talks about the world being opposed to them, it is quite clear that behind that opposition stands the Prince of this world. As St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Ephesians, “our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) While we live in this world, we will continue to fight against the forces of evil in the world that are opposed to the Gospel, to Jesus Christ, and to His Church.

This is the reality of our situation today, is it not? We live in a culture, in a society, in a world that is opposed to God and to the Truth and therefore will be opposed to us whenever we stand up for the principles God has given us. This brings us to the third and final part of Jesus’ prayer. He prays for those who will come to believe in Him through the preaching of the Gospel.

Notice again that the focus of Jesus’ prayer is on the unity of the Church and the glory that brings to Him and the Father. “I in them and You in Me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” How important it is that we are seen to be completely one! It is as the world sees our unity, as unbelievers observe the way we interact - the way we care for one another, the way we support one another - that they begin to realize there must be something solid and true to the Gospel we preach and live. That is why it is so important when we have some problem with another Christian that we seek to resolve it, rather than letting it simmer and fester until it becomes a source of division in the Church.

And what is the secret to this unity about which I speak? “I made Your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” If we are going to pray for one another and for our Church, it would be good to include in every one of those prayers that the love with which the Father has loved Jesus Christ, His only Son, may be in them, and that Jesus Himself may be in them.  Let us pray also that the Father’s love may also be in us and that Jesus Himself will come to us and abide in each of us. Finally, let us pray also that with God’s love and Jesus within us, our manner of living will change so that God will be glorified through us. specialHis

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