Seventh Sunday of Easter
John 17:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.
5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;
8 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 have believed that you sent me.
9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.
10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11 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.
As I turned on the radio on Friday morning I realised that I was listening to a memorial service from Manchester Cathedral for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing three years ago. It took me back to that day on 22nd May 2017, as two of the young victims of that heinous crime were from South Shields where I was serving in ministry. I will never forget the feeling of numbness and shock which gripped that small tight knit community and the very real sense that we had lost two of our own.
It seems to me that the tragedy brought out the two extremes of human nature. Firstly on the dark side the criminal murderous actions of those who carried this out, but also a very good side shown in the reaction of people, particularly the people of Manchester following the bombing.
For me there was one person who encapsulated this spirit of good and it was not a politician or a religious leader but a grieving mother.
Having lost her daughter Olivia, Charlotte Campbell attended a gathering in her home town numb with shock and grief she said “I don’t know what I am doing but I have come here because I was told to” and in a voice strained and breaking that came straight from a broken heart she said “please please don’t let them drive us apart, don’t let them divide us. We must stay together”.
We are currently in another crisis, caused by a virus which no one saw coming and which has created havoc around the globe and which has cost lives and caused heartbreak in our own communities. Yet we have also seen wonderful and inspirational examples of unity and heroism as we have come together to overcome this pandemic and defeat it.
As human beings, we are created and intended to live in unity and in community. Our Gospel reading is about such unity. Jesus knowing that his time left on earth is short prays to the Father that his disciples and all future believers “ Holy Father protect them in your name that you have given me so they may be one as we are one”.
Coming together in unity and being protected by the Father’s love fills the church’s history through the centuries. Martyrs have gone to their deaths preferring unity above their own self preservation.
If the Manchester bombers intended their actions to bring division and conflict between the community they were absolutely wrong and they failed. The people of Manchester and I think of this nation showed that they want unity and mutual respect over division and hate. In the years to come when we look back on these world-changing months of Covid-19, I also believe we will remember how the strength of the human spirit and unity with each other helped us to overcome.
One of the reasons for this is surely that we are created in God’s image. All of us, whether we call ourselves religious or not, are called to live in community as God lives in Community in the Holy Trinity.
For Christians, to know God is to be caught up in his life and that our knowledge of Him will be life giving not only for ourselves but for others too.
Jesus was sent into the world so that we may know God and be drawn into his life. We are sent to live out our knowledge of God and his love, together with each other. So that others may see and know Him and in the end we may all be one.