Seventh Sunday of Easter Lectionary Reflection, Year A
June 1, 2014
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. John 17:11
One of my favorite ministries in congregations where I have served is that of prayer shawls. It’s delightful to see a dedicated group of yarn artists gathered to create beautiful and practical shawls designed to wrap the receiver in tangible evidence of God’s care and a community’s love of them. I am in awe of those who have the fine motor skills to talk, pray, and knit at the same time–all without slipping a single stitch. In the congregation where I most recently served, the end of the year would find the “Creative Christian Ladies” arranging all of their work (prayer shawls, lap robes, chemo hats, newborn hats, and other assorted hats) around the worship space for blessing during worship. By the time each shawl or hat found its new home, it had been steeped in prayer.
When I left to take my latest call, the group gave me a beautiful shawl in muted shades of purple, pink, and blue. I treasure it and keep it in my office, where I see it daily and use it often. When it’s cold, it provides warmth. When the way is hard or the day’s tasks seem too daunting, it reminds me that I am not alone. Above all, it reminds me that the love and care of this group is grounded firmly in their faith in Jesus. In this lovely creation, I can see and feel both their love and the love of Christ.
Jesus is no longer in our world, incarnate in flesh and blood and bone, but he is with us nonetheless, and in him we are one. So, too, I am no longer in the community from whence my beloved shawl came, but the love, care, and memories of those people and that place are ever-present in carefully woven stitches. Even as the shawl is prayer and love made visible, so this week’s gospel account of Jesus’ prayer for his followers is love that transcends the pages of scripture and the sands of time.
We are God’s dearly beloved. Listen. Can you hear the voice of Jesus praying this prayer for you? Can you feel yourself surrounded by his love for you and for this world? Can you feel in these words what it means to be in Christ, to be covered with his abiding love and the divine desire for relationship? Can you sense the power of prayer as these words enter your mind, heart, and being?
As we leave Easter for the long, green season of ordinary time, may we never forget that relationship with God is anything but ordinary. May we also never forget that prayer is powerful and in it we enter into conversation with our Lord, into the very presence of the Divine. Finally, may we remember that in us, others see Jesus. We are left in this in-between time to tell the story and point the way to Jesus so that all may see and know the love that we have already experienced.
Wrap yourselves in the words of this prayer. Know that you are in Jesus even as Jesus is in God. The Word made flesh is as close as the whispered words of a prayer, is made visible in bread and wine and water, and is present wherever two or more gather in his name. In this we are one.
All of our stewardship–time, talent, and resources–finds its taproot in prayer. In fact, everything in our discipleship journey should begin with prayer. This week’s gospel lesson gives us a powerful example of intercessory prayer, as Jesus prays with and on behalf of his disciples. We are part of that group, too. Jesus not only hears our prayers, but we are told that he is with us when we pray. Prayer and evangelism are two words that have the potential to strike fear into an otherwise rational disciple’s heart. Find a way to reassure your community that there are many ways to pray. There is no better, right, or wrong way to pray. Prayer is relationship; it’s two-way communication. If you have a story about being afraid to pray, share it. Invite people to talk with people sitting near them about what fears they have when it comes to prayer. Then invite everyone to pray in small groups–preferably out loud. Amidst the babble of voices there is a beautiful sound of prayer rising like incense before God. It’s all right, and it’s alright.
Alternately, if you have video capability, consider showing this short video “Pray with your Feet” from Recycle Your Faith.
“…so that they may be one, as we are one,” Jesus prays in this week’s gospel lesson. These are powerful words and a powerful image–that we are one in Christ, just as God and the Son are one. And yet the Christian world is fragmented. Divisions over any number of things ranging from biblical interpretation to worship practice have resulted in the formation of some 44,000 Christian denominations and organizations around the globe (Gordon Conwell Seminary Center for the Study of Global Christianity). So what does it mean when we pray for unity today? How can we work toward greater unity? One question youth may want to discuss is whether they feel that the divisions are as important as they once were. You might also want to explore with youth how they can articulate their own faith tradition’s unique perspectives while still being respectful of others’ points of view.
Consider sharing the African proverb “When you pray, move your feet.” What might that mean? Does it mean to pray and dance or march at the same time? Does it mean to pray for God’s will to be done and then go out and help do something to help that will be done? Maybe another version of the proverb could read “When you pray, move your hands.” If you have a prayer shawl or other needlework group in your congregation, invite one of the members to show the children how a prayer shawl is made. Let them touch and be wrapped in a finished one. You might even have a simple tie fleece blanket cut and ready for them to finish, praying as they tie each knot for the person who will receive it. However, you illustrate this notion about prayer, invite the children to be active and engaged in talking with God and working with Jesus to make this world a better place right now.
Photos: Bill McChesney and Matthew Cua, Creative Commons