A couple of years ago we had new gutters installed on our house because the old gutters weren’t doing the job anymore. They leaked and the water dropped from the eaves right to the ground. Our new gutters have been very successful in preventing ‘eavesdropping.’
The word ‘eavesdropping’ comes from the sound that drops of water that fall from the eaves of the roof make when they hit the ground. It’s a bit of a stretch, but ‘eavesdropping’ is listening in on someone else’s conversation. ‘Eavesdropping’ is usually considered to be rude and impolite. It’s said that Henry VIII had wooden figures carved into the eaves of his courtroom as a way of signaling others their gossip and ‘private conversations’ were being overheard.
When we come to the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, we find ourselves listening in on someone else’s conversation. The Son is speaking to the Father in prayer. And we’re invited to ‘eavesdrop.’ We’re invited to ‘listen in’ on this conversation that is going on within the Trinity, just as we were when we heard God say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let the have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen.2:26)
Jesus is in the Upper Room with His disciples. It’s probably right after He gives them His very body and very blood in the bread and the wine of the Supper, He prays – out loud. He wants them to ‘eavesdrop’ as He speaks with His Father.
As we ‘listen in’ on this prayer of the Son to the Father, we should keep in mind that it is being held under the shadow of the cross and therefore with particular solemnity.
The Son begins by praying for Himself. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have sent.”
But then, the focus changes, and as we ‘eavesdrop’ on the portion of this prayer that we’ve been assigned to listen in on today, we realize that He’s now talking about His apostles – those in the Upper Room with Him. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me…. But now I am coming to you…”
This past Thursday we celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord and His being ‘lifted up’ to sit at the right hand of the Father and who is ‘interceding for us.’ Here, BEFORE HIS ASCENSION, we see our Lord ALREADY interceding for us – “Father, keep them in your name…”
Every parent knows what Jesus is praying for here. The first time the child gets on the school bus and is out of their sight – which of us didn’t pray – “Father, keep them in your name…” When they went off to college we prayed – ‘Father, keep them in your name.’
When we overhear our Lord speak to His Father like this regarding His Apostles, and through them, we know that He is speaking also about us who have heard their message and believed it, we’re moved to respond in one of two ways. We may think that we’re plenty capable of ‘KEEPING’ ourselves. We’re grownups and like to be treated as such, and as such we don’t need anyone to ‘KEEP’ us. That’s for little children.
Or we may know ourselves better than that – knowing that we really are like little children who cannot ‘KEEP’ ourselves but depend on being ‘KEPT’ by our Father. We are like sheep, which unless they are kept by A GOOD SHEPHERD, will inevitably go astray, each to his own way, each to his own doom.
This is why, when Jesus brings us into this conversation with His Father and invites us to call Him, Our Father, He tells us to ask Him to “deliver us from evil…” knowing full well that we cannot ‘deliver ourselves from evil.’ We must be ‘kept.’
In your name…
Here though, Jesus asks the Father to ‘KEEP US,’ not from evil. In a minute, we’ll actually overhear Him say that He’s not asking the Father to “take us out of the world” which is so full of evil and ways to go astray. Rather, He prays that the Father would “keep us in His name.”
So, this is really a ‘BAPTISMAL PRAYER’ that Jesus is praying here. It was in Holy Baptism that the “NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” was given to us and we were brought “INTO” HIS NAME.
Much the same as when a wife is brought into the name of her husband when they are married, we were brought into the ‘name’ of the Triune God when we became the ‘bride of Christ’ in our baptism. In our baptism liturgy we pray that the baptized would “be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church.” And that is what Jesus is praying for here.
Here again, how many parents haven’t prayed this prayer WITH their Lord for their own children or siblings or friends – joining their prayer to His, “O God, keep them in Your name.”
Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter if they become successful and rich or if they struggle all their lives to make ends meet. It doesn’t matter if they are happily married with beautiful families or remain single. What matters above all – is that they remain in their baptism. “Keep them in Your name, O Lord.”
And if they have wandered away from their baptism and the Name they were given, we pray that He would ‘find them, return them, and keep them.
That they may be one…
Eavesdropping on His prayer, we hear Him say, “That they may be one, even as we are one.”
Here is the goal to which Jesus has been heading with this prayer to His Father – the perfect union of His holy bride, with Himself, with His Father, with the Spirit, AND with one another.
Knowing the mess we have made of things, the request seems too ideal, too impossible. He’s praying that these Apostles might be ONE – and that the ‘Apostolic Church’ that is born of their preaching and teaching might be ONE – “even as we are one.”
The point of comparison seems too lofty, too unrealistic. The Trinity is three, separate persons, yet One God. As we will confess in two weeks on Trinity Sunday, “In this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things… the Trinity in unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshipped…”
Our Lord prays that ONENESS in HIS CHURCH would be the reflection of the ONENESS of THE TRINITY. The ONE, holy, Christian church, made up of many separate persons, yet all the One body of Christ.
Here is the way to unity within the church as our Lord would have it. It’s not our agreement with one another that creates the unity in the church that we long for. That’s the unity that the tower builders of Babel strove for when they tried to “make a name for themselves.”
It is as we are ‘kept in His name,’ in perfect agreement and faith and trust IN HIS WORD, that we find the TRUE UNITY that our Lord prays for. St. Paul joins his prayer to our Lord’s here when he prays for the church, saying, “There is one body, and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all and through all.” (Eph. 4:5-6).
My joy in themselves…
It is this ‘unity’ with one another that flows out of our ‘unity’ with the holy Trinity that we overhear our Lord describe as His greatest ‘joy.’ “I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
The emotional experience of being kept in God’s name and through that name, being one with God and all who are kept in His name is JOY.
Clearly this JOY is not the same as ‘happiness’ or ‘excitement’ which comes and goes faster than the weather. In His parable about the seed, Jesus cautions, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receive it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Mt.13:20-21).
This ‘joy’ that Jesus has and that He prays His holy bride would also have, is the deep rooted ‘joy’ of knowing that God’s purpose to redeem His creation through His atoning sacrifice has been accomplished. Just before He “lifted up His eyes to heaven and prayed…” in this ‘high priestly prayer,’ Jesus had made this amazing announcement to His disciples, “I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33).
This is the “joy that was set before Him” that moved Him to “endure the cross, despising the shame.” (Heb. 12:2).
This is the ‘joy’ that is in Christ our Lord and that He prays might also be in us – the ‘joy’ of being ‘kept’ in His Name – that is above all Names.
As long as we are in this world, this ‘joy’ that is perfect in our Lord will never be perfect in us. Writing to the church, St. Paul says that his ‘joy’ is not complete unless we “are of the same mind, having the same spirit, being in full accord and of one mind” NOT WITH ONE ANOTHER, but with Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is why, whenever the shepherd finds His lost sheep and the woman her lost coin and the father, his lost son, they all say, “Rejoice with me!” For “there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15).
In the world, not of the world
This is the ‘joy’ that this ‘joyless’ world needs to see and that the ‘kept in Christ’ need to bear witness to. A deep and abiding ‘joy’ that is not based on what is temporary or shallow or false, but on what is ‘most true’ and ‘real’ and ‘eternal.’
And so, as we ‘eavesdrop’ on our Lord’s prayer, we hear Him say, ‘I do not ask that you take them out of this world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
“In the world, but not of the world.” That’s a great way to describe the Christian life. “In the world” that wants to separate us from our baptism. Yet, by our baptism, and the new name we have been given, “no longer of the world.”
Separated from the world, yet immersed in the world– in the families and communities and schools and workplaces and governments were we live – like special agents, sent from God to bear witness to the truth that there is not only a ‘peace’ but also a ‘joy’ which this world cannot give – but that Jesus Christ gives freely to all who will repent and receive it.
This world can be a hostile place for the disciples of Jesus Christ – and it looks like it’s getting more hostile rather than less. But we have overheard our Lord intercede for us, “keep them from the evil one.” And we know that the Father hears the prayer of His Son.
And so, since the Holy Spirit has given us ears to hear and with hearing ears has given us to ‘eavesdrop’ on our Lord’s prayer, we are live in this world even while we are not of this world. We belong to Christ – in whom this world has been overcome. Easter’s victory is accomplished. The Son is constantly interceding for us to the Father. It’s time for us to spread the ‘JOY’ of Jesus.