With his departure imminent, Christ completes his words of instruction to his disciples and begins to pray for their welfare and safety. I often remember a particular occasion when my oldest son David was just a little boy. His father and I had planned a weekend away and I asked if one of our friends would baby-sit for our sons. Carol was very happy to do this favor for us.
When we returned, Carol reported on our first night away from our sons, David and his younger brother Kevin. She shared with us how uneasy David was in our absence and how she tried to help him talk about his fears. It hadn’t gone well. By the time Carol realized David was distressed, he was very upset. His eyes were wet and red from crying and all he could say to her query, “David, what’s the matter?” was he was sad. He couldn’t give his sadness a name or a reason, but Carol thought she knew. Carol had three little children of her own and she certainly thought she knew why a little boy of 7 might be sad when his parents went away, so she waited a bit to ask the question again. This time David had an answer. His response to her question was “I’m homesick.” Well that would have made sense if David was at Carol’s house but actually, he was in his own bed, in his own room, in his own home. Non-plussed by the answer, Carol suggested praying to God to which David responded, “Will it help?”
Well, yes, it helps but like my son David, we often wonder, “Does it help?” For the disciples they couldn’t imagine their world without Christ in it. There might be some comfort in knowing Christ’s intent to provide them with an advocate, but who or what this advocate might be, the disciples would be highly unclear on that point. This was new and things that feel new can often make us feel uneasy, restless, sad, unattached to something familiar. Perhaps we would also feel homeless, without an anchor …something comforting to hold on to.
But, reading through this passage, I realized something new here. Christ would also be experiencing a different future, one in which his disciples, these friends of his would not be with him in the challenges that lay ahead. Christ was not just preparing the disciples for his absence; he was also preparing himself for a world without the day to day human contacts, which had sustained his work and his existence on earth. Though the disciples were always God’s first, Christ was symbolically placing them back in the hands of their maker and releasing them for the work ahead. It is what we do with our children. They belong to us in part but they are always, first and foremost, God’s creatures…God’s beloved children. We do have to release them to the work God has called them to do.
I was listening to NPR on my car radio the other day. The program was centered on Millennium nuns, young women choosing to enter a religious vocation in an age when such vocations are dwindling. The interviewer wanted to know why these young women felt a call to serve in this way. One of the women responded that her call comes after a period of discernment. She did not make this choice in a vacuum. Another admitted that her process of discernment took place without informing her parents of her thinking. When asked why she hadn’t shared her thoughts with her parents, the young woman admitted that she avoided having such a conversation largely because she knew her parents might raise objections. She wanted to be free to think through her choices without the possibility of her parents exerting negative thoughts and influence.
As Christ speaks to God in prayer, we can hear his acceptance of what he was about to lose. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They are yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they believed that you sent me.” In some ways, it all sounds quite complex and confusing but what we really hear is a prayer based in need, one borne out of a realization that the time is now. Things would change and needed to do so even though loss was a part of the equation. The Cross was close and Christ’s departure was near.
But Christ held to the assurance he had received of God’s unending love and he would leave his disciples with this same knowledge. ..they too were loved. They’d been given a task and, with the added help of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, they would receive the needed gifts to complete their work too…just as Christ had done among them, they now would follow in his lead, sharing his word, praying for one another, speaking truth in a confused world and bringing the gospel to all who would hear it.
Time has passed and now, we are the disciples for whom Christ prays. We are the ones with a message to share. We are the ones who know Jesus and live Jesus in our words and our actions. We are the ones who have been blessed with the spirit of God, our advocate on earth. Our God has prepared us for whatever lies ahead and has lovingly paved the way for us to be about the work of spreading the Good News of God’s love in Christ. We often wonder if praying helps…. “Will it help?”, we ask. The answer to that question was asked and answered ages ago but remains as true today as it was true then. Christ stated it so clearly as he prayed to his and our Holy God. “All mine are yours and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And, now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” And so it is-a prayer for the ages; and so it shall be, now and always. Amen.