CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Never Alone
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
”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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 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. 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. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 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 17:1-11
Some call this Sunday “Waiting Sunday.” That’s because, sandwiched as it is between the Ascension and Pentecost, it might easily be overlooked as a sleepy intermission between two awesome events. But that would be a sad loss. We would miss one of the truly great gospels. We would lose the opportunity to hear Christ’s final report to the Father and to hear him explain how all the pieces of the divine plan fit together. So let’s pause and give this gospel the reverent attention it deserves. It is worth the “Waiting.”
On the odd chance that you missed the message in the other 20 chapters of his gospel, once again John is making the case for Christ’s divinity. The text opens with Jesus calling on the Father, revealing himself as the manifestation of God’s love made flesh for our redemption. Clearly, he is more than a heavenly goodwill ambassador. He is more than the prince of the prophets. Jesus speaks reverently to the Father. But he speaks as God the Son to God the Father.
John’s gospel began by establishing the fact that "[i]n the beginning was the Word." Lest we miss or forget the point, Jesus repeats that he was with the Father before the world began and not as an honored guest. He was, is and always will be one with the Father.
When Jesus makes this revelation, his Passion and Resurrection still lie ahead. But he is confident his mission will be fulfilled, and he shares that confidence with us: In human form, Jesus has made God more accessible to his people. By example, he has established love of God and neighbor as the paradigm of the New Covenant. The love he preaches is no shallow sentiment exercised at our convenience. It is a burning passion, so intense, so selfless that he is ready to empty himself entirely on the cross for our redemption.
In giving Christ his mission and sharing his power, the Father has glorified Jesus. In his humble obedience, Jesus has glorified the Father. In the gift of eternal life, God has glorified his people. And we, in turn, worship God with a new fervor born of this revelation. All the loose ends are tied up. God’s plan is a closed-loop of love - Father-to-Son-to-people - all flowing reciprocally with the ease of alternating current. And as St. Augustine has explained, that current is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
Buried deep in the cosmic sweep of this gospel is another message that should not be overlooked. Jesus asks the Father, "That they be made one, as you and I are one." As I considered this unifying message, I looked up from my keyboard to see the latest news of the pandemic flash across my television screen. There was a first responder in Queens anguished that he may have brought the virus home with him and fatally infected his beloved grandfather. There was the agony of ICU staff comforting victims facing lonely deaths, isolated from family and friends.
In the face of plague, how can we all be one when our survival calls for isolation, for quarantine, for physical distancing? While I tried to focus on Christ’s call for unity, I heard my boys playing in the next room and my wife bustling in the kitchen. And then the message was clear.
In Christ, we are never alone. Closer than bonds of family, we are fused in the Body of Christ. Across time, across distance and doctrine, we are his beloved. In the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, we are one with the faithful, up and down the centuries, across the continents and despite the strife of sect and schism, reformation and counter-reformation.
A vaccine is being developed to break the isolation of the pandemic. A vaccine has long existed to break the isolation of pride and prejudice that has plagued us all for centuries. It is the love of Christ that first washed us in the waters of baptism. Thicker than blood, closer than the bonds of family, we live in Christ and he in us. Even in our sins we are never alone, never quarantined from the love of Jesus, never socially distanced from the grace of the Holy Spirit, never, ever abandoned by our heavenly Father.
Alleluia. He is risen.
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