Jesus said, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 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. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 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.”
Jesus is praying for us. Did you catch it? John 17 is one long prayer that Jesus offers to the Father in which he first prays for his disciples and those he ministered to while on earth and then in verse 20 also for ‘those who will believe in [him] through their word.’ Jesus is praying for you and me and all those Christians across the centuries who have heard the good news that was first revealed to the faithful women who journeyed to the tomb early that morning and has spread to the ends of the earth. Jesus prays for us, reflecting his intimate and loving care for us. His love is not distant or abstract. It is concrete and personal.
The content of his prayer matters as much as the fact that he prays for us. So what exactly does he pray for? ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.’ It is a prayer for unity, but not just any unity. Jesus prays that our relationship with each other might be like the oneness he has with the Father. The Church describes that oneness in words familiar to us from the Nicene Creed, where it says Jesus is ‘of one Being with the Father’ or, in slightly older language, ‘being of one substance with the Father.’ They are completely one, sharing the same being. Jesus prays that we, his followers, might show forth that sort of oneness.
I hardly need mention that we are a long way from such unity. Enormous and seemingly insurmountable divisions seem to afflict our society and indeed the Christian Church. One thing I have noticed about this pandemic, though, is that it has in many ways wiped away a lot of the things in Church life that previously we thought were so important but now seem so very insignificant. It has forced us to return to the essentials. This time is, I think, a call for us as the People of God to seek a oneness in heart, mind, and spirit as we commit to the essentials— proclaiming the good news amidst so much suffering and pain, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and lonely, working for justice and peace, and manifesting God’s love for this world. It is our opportunity to show forth our unity in Christ so that, as Jesus prays to the Father, ‘the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ May it be so.
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 832)