“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (Jo. 17:18).
The celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead can’t be contained by a single day: it’s too mind-bending, life-changing, awe-inspiring, to be checked off quickly on a calendar before moving on. So, the church gives us the Easter season: fifty days, concluding with Pentecost (next week), in which to reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s where we are now in the church year. Fifty days to linger on what it means for us; fifty days to go deeper because fifty days is hardly enough to explore what Jesus’ mind-bending, life-changing, awe-inspiring, resurrection means for our lives.
During this season our readings from St. John’s Gospel amplify the message of Easter Day. Today in our Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father for the disciples; the whole passage in fact is a prayer, part of a longer whole. Jesus intercedes for them, and points them in a direction. That direction is not specific: north, south, east or west; but simply outward, into the world. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (Jo. 17:18). Furthermore, to go on this mission, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps out into the world, the disciples will need God’s protection. Jesus prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (Jo. 17:15). Finally, Jesus has given them, not only a mission, but a message, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world” (Jo. 17:6). The “name” is the message.
First, let’s consider the world, a word mentioned repeatedly in our passage. The world is, first of all, God’s orderly and ornamental arrangement of things, the cosmos or world in which we live. This is the world you see when you look out your window, or walk in your garden, or encounter on the way when you go to work or school. It encompasses the peonies in your garden (I hope yours are as fine as ours are this year), the car in your driveway, and the far away Taj Mahal: everything. It’s everything that has been made, by divine or human hand, including you and your neighbors, and the world we’ve wrought.
It’s also the world for which Jesus laid down his life. It’s not just stuff, pleasing or not, but it’s charged with moral significance. Earlier in John’s Gospel we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jo. 3:16). In other words, the world is not just an orderly and ornamental arrangement of things, but it has eternal significance. God gave his only Son for this world, after all. This world is the field of human redemption, the place where the battle is fought. In that sense, the world matters.
Therefore, Jesus prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (Jo. 17:15). In John’s Gospel, the world is not morally neutral, just stuff; but rather it’s enemy occupied territory (an idea I’m borrowing from C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity). Sinful humanity is complicit in this fallen world. It, too, is the world we’ve wrought, the world we’re responsible for. It’s a complex, beautiful, compromised, and even perilous place. In short, the fallen world, and we ourselves, are in need of redemption. While the disciples are on their way, in this world, they will need to look to God for safety. “They are in the world,” as Jesus says in our Gospel, yet “do not belong to the world” (Jo. 17:11, 14).
It’s because of the world’s need for redemption that Jesus himself has been sent into the world by his Father. Because Jesus is sent, so are we. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (Jo. 17:18). The word “sent” is also the root of the word “apostle”: one who is sent. It’s the very nature of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, that we talk about in the creed, to be sent, to get moving, to be on a mission. It’s this movement out into the world that led to the founding of St. George’s Church, the building of Legacy Hall, the refurbishing of your sanctuary: all of them tools of God’s mission, that we are carrying forward.
Finally, Jesus has given us a message, wrapped up in God’s name. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world” (Jo. 17:6). In Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself; made known something that was unknown before. In John’s Gospel, this something is called God’s “name.” In Exodus, God revealed his name to Moses as “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14), which doesn’t give much away. In John’s Gospel, then, Jesus tells the people, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jo. 8:58); or again, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize I am” (Jo. 8:28).
In other words, Jesus himself is the message; Jesus himself is the name. Jesus, through his birth, death, and resurrection, has made something known about God’s identity that was not known before: the human face of God, the love of God for the human race made known in the incarnation of the Son of God, and the new hope of resurrection life.
In our Gospel today, Jesus prays for his disciples because he knows we have a message and a mission for the world. Because the world is a complex, beautiful, compromised, and even perilous place, he prays for our safety. Jesus is a serious intercessor, so we can have confidence. Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead: new hope for the world. A mind-bending, life-changing, awe-inspiring reality, that God invites us into in this holy season.