John 17: 20 – 26
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
Jesus now switches tack in his prayer, from praying for and about himself to praying about his disciples, both those with him at the time and the ones to come in the future. He prays for the church that will be built after his death, and especially blesses those who will never see him, but will only hear about him through his word. This foreshadows the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ which is only in John’s gospel and will come later. This is a particularly forward-looking passage then, indicating perhaps that the author was already part of an established church
The other main theme in this passage is the unity of Christians in Jesus. A rallying cry of “One church, one faith one lord”, as in the hymn, perhaps. Jesus does not describe the church in terms of denominations: of Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Catholic or Protestant. Jesus sets out a vision for ‘one’ church. We, at SPSCU, are part of that. We may have our quirks and traditions, but we participate in the great whole that is Christian worship. This is not just in terms of geographical location, but in terms of time as well. When we gather together in worship we are joining up not just with those who have worshiped hundreds or even thousands of years ago, but with those yet to be born.
Jesus even touches on this point himself with his reference to his ‘word’, now handed over to the disciples, and the glory ‘given to him… before the foundation of the world’. It is, again, a reference to the first passage in John. Read it again if you have forgotten it. It is a beautiful summary of who Jesus is, and what his message, his ‘word’, means.
But Jesus is not focussing on himself at this point. This is a handover moment: a transition from the ‘word’ being with him to the ‘word’ being with the disciples. He is saying: I am the word, which was in the beginning, and was with God and was God. Now I give it to you. And you must do the same, spreading it across the world.