Grace, mercy and peace to you from God, our Father, and from his Son, Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Savior.
Jesus prays for his disciples on the night before his death, “. . .‘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 . . .’” (John 17:20-22 NRSV)
Over the years as I’ve studied John 17, known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, I become immersed in light. The word “glory” keeps calling me to “enter in, to see what is there.”
I have. And I’ve discovered that the Greek word for glory (doxa) is something which, in the Old Testament, is attributed to God, or Yahweh.
It is significant that the glory ascribed to God in the Old Testament is now attributed to Jesus in the New Testament, and especially in John’s gospel. Also of Jewish origin is the important concept in verse 22 of Jesus’ prayer that present and future believers in Jesus share in this glory. Today, our hope is the “hope of glory.” Our highest duty is to glorify and praise God in worship, word and action.
Let’s look at what the gospel writer John wants us to see: The room in which the Last Supper is taking place is lit by candlelight. A diverse group of men sit at a table. The meal is already eaten.
And then Jesus prays. He prays a prayer unlike anything we could even imagine. No “Lord help me,” no “Thank you for my blessings.” Instead, Jesus speaks intimately with his Father about his hour having come, about glory, about being one.
Jesus is concerned for his disciples and prays for them. The disciples overhear. We overhear this eloquent plea — not for himself, but for them, and for us. Jesus says that he passes on God’s glory to the disciples, to us. He does this so that we might be united with God and with one another in love and faith. In this union with God and with each other, we also will be in a position to share this kind of life with others, so that they, too, can share in God’s glory.
What is this glory? In chapter 1:14, John declares that “the Word became flesh, and we beheld his glory.” What did we see? Turning water into wine? A nocturnal visit with Nickodemus? Drinking water from Jacob’s well with a Samaritan woman? Healing the lame? Feeding the five thousand? Raising Lazarus from the grave? Washing the disciples’ feet?
Where is the glory? Not in dazzling miracles, not in power, not in wealth. It is in the cross where Father and Son are glorified. There is the glory.
We ask ourselves, “How can this be?” John teaches us that there is glory, and then there is glory. The world knows a kind of glory that gleams with gold, might and fame. But this glory is the glory of celebrities, and oppressors who control and manipulate.
However, this Jesus embodies another kind of glory, the glory of being vulnerable, the glory of being weak, the glory that is sheer love. The God to whom Jesus prayed is all love and compassion. The two of them together, by their very nature, give of themselves. This is glory.
And what about us? How do we share in this glory? Over the centuries, artists have painted the Last Supper with peculiar seating arrangements. If you think about it, Leonardo da Vinci oddly placed Jesus and all the disciples along the same one side of a long table.
Reflecting on this seating arrangement over the years has made me aware that da Vinci’s placement was intentional. Jesus and all the disciples are placed along the same side of the table, not so we could study their faces and gestures, but, rather, so that we might acknowledge a place for ourselves across the table from them. We are being invited to join them; being invited to enter in, stay and participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among them.
Again, “How do we share in this glory?” Our glory is accepting the invitation and entering in and belonging to the loving life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our glory implies unity. But we aren’t good at this unity. We are divided. And our divisions shatter the body of Christ and crucify him once again.
We confess our sin and yearn for togetherness. And we practice. Our most diligent practice happens at the Lord’s Table. It is here that we imagine ourselves together with the full body of Christ. We are saved by that most special of nights when Jesus gave himself up for us, and made forever a place for us at the table. “This is my body.” “This is my blood.” And for a moment we are one. This is our glory.
Let us pray together . . . Lord Jesus, resurrected one, help us to praise you as we ought: to sing together rather than to struggle against each other, to join hands in unity rather than to build walls between one another, to wonder at your great glory, your great love for us, your great vision for us. This day and always, in your name, we pray. Amen.
Written by the Rev. Janice C. Winters, retired Lutheran Pastor.