A long time ago, a young man finished an evening meal with his friends, spoke to them about various things, then looked up to the sky, and prayed.
I want you to imagine for a moment that it never happened.
I want you to imagine that he did not at this time pray for himself. What would be the point? He had been hated, hounded, and harangued, he had been betrayed into his enemy’s hands, and they were going to kill him the next day. What would be the point of a man in that desperate position saying, “Father, bring glory to me”? So imagine that it never happened. Indeed, imagine that Jesus, the night before he died, abandoned his trust in the Father, and did not pray for himself.
Imagine that Jesus did not at this time pray for his disciples. Why should he? They were a small, pathetic, dejected band of followers who couldn’t even be trusted to stay awake while he prayed. They showed every sign of abandoning him. So imagine that Jesus gave up on them, and left them to their own feeble devices. They were hopeless cases, and it would have been a waste of breath for him to plead to the Father on their behalf.
Imagine that Jesus did not pray for future generations of believers. Why would he? How could there even be any future generations of believers, since he was about to die and his followers could be expected to drift back to their fishing nets? There was little reason to believe that people would even remember his name, let alone call themselves his followers and dedicate their lives to him, and so didn’t trouble to pray for them.
Just imagine that. And yet Jesus did pray for himself, for his disciples, and for future generations of Christians.
Jesus did pray for himself. He prayed, “Father, bring glory to your Son.” And that prayer was answered. The Father glorified the Son by taking his dead body and raising it victorious from the grave. We are here today because Jesus prayed, “Father, bring glory to your Son”. Phil 2:9ff ‘God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ Our meeting this morning is not merely a recollection of an ancient life, but a communion with our resurrected Lord, who once died but ever lives.
Jesus did pray for his disciples. He asked his Father to protect them and keep them safe. And that prayer was answered. Indeed, after his death and resurrection, they were granted power not only to keep the faith, but to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And so the church was founded, a community of believers from every nation and tongue, believing and proclaiming the apostolic faith. That is what gives meaning to our gathering here this morning, and to our celebration of Holy Communion. We are here today because Jesus prayed for his disciples, “Protect them and keep them safe”, and because the Father anwered that prayer by building the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. We stand firm this morning on the foundation of those first prophets and apostles.
Jesus did pray for future generations of believers, for all who would believe because of the apostle’s message. He prayed that they might have a united witness, that they might, here and hereafter, know the Father and be with the Son and see his glory. We are here today because that prayer is being answered. The Father is granting for us to know the Father and the Son, and for us to be assured that we shall be with Christ where he is. Our celebration of Holy Communion is ‘until he comes’, and we see him face to face. And the body and blood of Christ, who died but lives and reigns and continues to intercede in such a manner for all who come to God through him, will keep us in eternal life.
This prayer, then, is fulfilled in our own status and experience as Christians: if the Father had not glorified the Son there would have been no resurrection and no eternal life; if the disciples had not been protected and kept safe there would have been no church and no apostolic message; if Christ had not willed it and the Father provided it, there would be no unity amongst the followers of Christ, no possiblity of us knowing God, and no prospect of our being with Christ and of seeing his glory. But Jesus has asked for, and the Father has granted, all these things, and what comfort, strength, encouragement and hope that gives us. Thanks be to God.