A week ago Friday, we had our granddaughters with us overnight. Because we’d let them stay up a little later than their usual bedtime, I assumed they’d sleep in. But the 9-year-old woke early and watched, unknown to me, while I stood in front of an icon of Mary and Jesus, a place where I offer prayers for my children and grandchildren when I first come downstairs every morning. When I turned around to head to the kitchen, there was Anastasia sitting at the table, watching me and smiling. She said she’d been there for about four minutes, in what felt to me like a kind of intimate, holy eavesdropping.
That’s what’s happening in today’s gospel. Jesus is sitting at the dinner table with his beloved friends, but he’s talking with God. And so his friends, like Anastasia, end up engaged in intimate, holy eavesdropping on the conversation. And just what do they hear Jesus saying to God? He’s praying for them, his faithful followers who are right there with him, just as I was praying for my watching grandchild, but then Jesus expands his prayer beyond place and time: “I ask ….also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their words….” That’s us. We are among those who have come to believe because of the disciples’ words; they told someone, who told someone else, who wrote it down, who passed it on, so that 2000 years later we are still hearing the words of those who gathered at the table with Jesus. We are among the ones he was praying for that night.
And his prayer is that we all may be one, not only with each other here at St. Paul’s, but with his disciples, and with all his followers down through the centuries, “so that they may be one, as we are one.” All of us, across time, across space.
And after praying for unity, for oneness, Jesus turns his intimate prayer to love. He knows the disciples are scared and confused – and so are we a lot of the time, with good reason – so he prays to God that we know “you … have loved them even as you have loved me…. so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Oneness, intimacy, love. – Thank you, Jesus, I’ll take them all!
It matters that we know we are God’s beloved children, even – especially – now in the face of the appalling murder of children in Texas, the ongoing slaughter of Black Americans, the atrocities in Ukraine, the deliberate erasing of human rights, amid our own personal and family tragedies. So many tragedies pile up, more than we can even hold in our minds at one time. It’s like some sadistic water torture, each new event dripping relentlessly into our souls and our psyches – but Jesus has been praying for us ever since that night 2000 years ago and he is with us, in us, through it all. What is happening in this moment matters – it affects our hearts, our souls, our very body chemistry – but as followers of Jesus, our context is wider than this immediate moment.
For example, we’re still in the Easter Season, we’ve just celebrated the Ascension, next Sunday is Pentecost, and in the midst of all this, the Feast of the Visitation is in two days, the time when Mary, newly pregnant, arrives at her cousin’s home and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. Elizabeth blesses both Mary and the child she carries, and then Mary utters her prayer, her song, her hope for what her child will bring. While both expectant mothers are filled with anticipation, we know that both will lose their sons to violence: one will be beheaded, the other crucified. We know what is to come, but they don’t. Thinking of those mothers, my heart turns to the mothers and fathers in Uvalde, Texas who sent their children to school on Tuesday with pride and love and joy. They did not know. I hope they know the promise that God loves them, is with them, is in them — though all they may be able to do right now is rail at God for their unimaginable loss. It’s all many of us can do as we hear of the carnage, of one more slaughter of innocent lives because as a country we protect guns more than we protect our children.
So, yes, Mary and Elizabeth came to know the heartache of loss, the reality of violence done to their children. But that does not negate the promise of that shared moment, the promise of our faith. After all, ours is not a faith in some untouchable deity, but in the One who lived and loved and suffered and died, who is with us in our pain and loss, who prayed, all those thousands of years ago, not only for us but for the families in Uvalde. The One who reminds us that we are all one, one with those families as well as with the disciples who listened in on his prayer the night before he died. This is still Easter, and ours is a resurrection faith, and we dare to hope that even as we witness the crushing sorrow of those families and experience rage that this continues to happen, we dare to hope – to believe – that the children themselves are enfolded in God’s loving embrace.
In joining the disciples in eavesdropping on Jesus’ prayer at this moment in time, I hear not only the comforting words of oneness and love, but the challenge. If we are indeed all indwelt and interconnected, we are also responsible to one another, and I wonder what next steps God is calling me to take. I do know that the next time Anastasia eavesdrops on my morning prayers, they will include prayers for the safety of all my grandchildren – but I also know that if I don’t do anything to work towards that safety, I’m complicit in the violence.
As the poet Steve Garnaas-Holmes reminds us:
When Jesus prays “May they all be one,”
it isn’t about opinions.
It’s that we’re all cells of one body.
See that way.
Act that way.
Love that way.
In its earliest years, Christianity was called “The Way.” God help us all to follow that Way, wherever it may lead.