The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B, St. George’s Church, Nashville, May 12, 2024

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jo. 17:11).

This morning our Gospel reading from John shows us Jesus at prayer. Nothing remarkable about that: all the Gospels show us Jesus praying at different times; and in his prayer at the garden of Gethsemane they even give us his words: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matt. 26:39). It’s the Lord’s heartfelt prayer of humility and obedience. And in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus teaches them how to pray, in the prayer we all know: “Our Father, who art in heaven….”. It’s the Lord’s prayer that’s included in every Prayer Book service.

But in John’s Gospel, in our reading today, Jesus doesn’t teach them how to pray, but he does something else: he teaches them by doing, leading by the example of his own prayer. It may be the best way to teach anybody anything: to show them how it’s done. Jesus prays for the disciples themselves, in an extensive high priestly prayer for all those who are his followers and his friends. Like the short prayer in the garden, it lets us listen in on Jesus’ own prayer; but unlike the Gethsemane prayer, where Jesus is praying for himself, he’s now praying for them.

The disciples are the object of the prayer, but at the same time he is giving them a model for their own prayer. Just as surely as in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus is giving them, and us, a pattern of prayer to follow. There’s no “repeat after me” formula here, but make no mistake: Jesus in the seventeenth chapter of John is showing his hand and teaching us what we ought to pray for.

It shouldn’t surprise us that common themes emerge between the familiar “Our Father,” and Jesus’ prayer in our Gospel today. “Protect them in your name” (Jo. 17:11), a single petition from our reading, echoes the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer: both “hallowed be thy name” and also “deliver us from evil.” In both prayers, addressed to the Father, we hallow God’s name; and we learn to pray for God’s protection, for God’s keeping, for deliverance from evil. There are other parallels as well in these petitions, but today we can keep safely to the theme of protection and deliverance.

Our need for God’s protection and keeping is as wide-ranging as the world we live in. We live in an anxious age in which there’s hardly any need to call to mind those many dangers. In fact, maybe best not to, as we post-modern people are so anxious that we’re even anxious about our anxiety. “Stop Being Anxious About Being Anxious,” one website advises! That has to be good advice, even considering our many challenges, because a generalized sense of anxiety simply can’t be good for you. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “So do not worry about tomorrow… today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt. 6:34).

Notice how Jesus’ prayer for protection in our Gospel reading is related to the unity of the fellowship. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one(Jo. 17:11). Jesus is praying for us so that we in the Church may not become disconnected from each other, and from him. He wants us to abide in him, and he in us, as he says in another place in the Gospel (Jo. 15:4). Connection and unity are an important part of the prayer that Jesus models for us. In short, disconnection is one of the dangers we need to be protected from; maybe, this prayer suggests, the chief threat before us.

Notice how Jesus summons up as part of the prayer a powerful counterexample. “I guarded them,” he prays to God, “and not one was lost except the one destined to be lost” (Jo. 17:12): that is, Judas. He’s the infamous betrayer who choose disconnection from Jesus and became lost from the fellowship. Our reading from Acts tells the story of his replacement, giving Judas (who never appears) a flashback cameo role. As it says, Judas is the one who “turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:25): that is, did his own thing, went his own way, chose his own path. Judas became disconnected.

In a sense, sin is disconnection: from God and from one another. Our Prayer Book Catechism says that sin is “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” Distortion comes from disconnection, from going our own way, from being absent from the fellowship. So Jesus prays, Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jo. 17:11).

Pop-psychology has its limits, and I’m not a therapist, but it seems to me that disconnection may even be the ultimate source of our generalized anxiety about things. “Stop being anxious about being anxious,” as the website says! Nothing leads to disconnection from reality as quickly as disconnection from other people. This may be one of our greatest problems.

In the Easter season that is soondrawing to a close, we are reminded that nothing can disconnect us from the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, not even death could separate us from him. In his glorious resurrection he has overcome both sin and death, those powerful disconnectors and destroyers of human life. Today, by reaffirming their faith, our confirmands are showing us the way to be connected. New life is about being connected in Christ Jesus, and being connected to one another in him. Our prayer for them today should be the prayer he prayed for us, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jo. 17:11).

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee