Famous Last Words
[Jesus prayed:] “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. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.
“But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
I’d like to bring this Gospel reading down to earth some – and in honor of our confirmation students. I don’t want to take for granted that you’ve all seen this movie, but I hope so. I feel a little bad for you if you haven’t and, I guess that sort of shame is between you and Jesus. But the short version of the longer story is that, at this point in the movie – the closing, final scene, actually (there’s your spoiler alert!) – there’s a very heartfelt goodbye, as a young man, about to head off to college, decides to leave all of his favorite childhood toys behind.
So, I thought about Andy, and Buzz and Woody and all the rest this morning, because Jesus is saying “goodbye,” too, in the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel. This is what smarter people than me call part of the Farewell Discourse from Jesus – his “famous last words,” if you will. “Famous last words,” because he was getting ready, not for confirmation or college, but because he was getting ready for the cross, for his death, for his resurrection and for his ascension into heaven, too.
And all of that gives these prayerful last words from Jesus some weight, some power, some heft. Even knowing what was coming for himself – all of that suffering and death, I mean – Jesus’ greatest concern was for his family and friends. He wants to entrust them to God’s care. He wants them to be protected, to be guarded, to be safe. He wants them to have joy; to be sanctified in the truth. He wants them to go about their lives – in the world, but not of the world – fulfilling their call as children of God. And so he prays for them, mightily.
It’s why these words from Jesus are perfect for a day like today when I feel like my words have too much ground to cover, in too little time. For starters, Mother’s Day is on the hearts and minds of many of us who are filled with as many different emotions about that as there can be. We will also celebrate the confirmation of a handful of our young people as they affirm the promises of their baptism. (We’ll even baptize Miles Pavia at our 10:45 a.m. service, in a little bit.) Many of us gather with heavy hearts, too, as we heard, to celebrate and honor and give thanks for the lives of Tom and Mary Lynn Wolfe, who died too soon and suddenly, just a couple of weeks ago. And on top of that, many in our community are grief-stricken over the loss of Tyler Carter, the New Palestine High School student who took his own life on Friday.
I read once that for mothers, the choice to have a child is to decide forever to let your heart go walking around outside of your body. Which means there’s a lot of letting go, relinquishing, and surrender – a lot of faith – in the act of living life as a mother. And it seems that’s something like what God did in Jesus, through the incarnation – to set the divine free in the world; to put God’s self at risk; to let the very heart of God leave the safety of heaven’s protection and go walking around in the realm of the brokenness that is the world as we know it.
And I think that’s something like what Jesus is doing when he says goodbye to his disciples. He’s about to leave his friends and his family to their own devices – he’s about to let his children, his heart – go walking around in the world without him, and he’s more than a little concerned about what might come of that.
And don’t most of us know something about what he’s feeling? Haven’t we been on one end of this sort of goodbye, this kind of letting go, this sort of surrender at some point in our lives – whether it was sending your child off to their first day of kindergarten or moving them into their college dorm, or walking your little girl down the aisle on her wedding day. Or, maybe you were the one sent, moved-in, walked down the aisle.
Or, maybe it had nothing to do with children at all. Was it kissing a loved-one goodbye before the nurse wheeled them off to surgery? Was it “farewell” to a friend who moved away or “good-bye” to a co-worker or to a career of your own? Maybe it was the final goodbye to someone you knew you’d never see again, or even a goodbye that didn’t happen in time, because no one saw it coming.
I imagine Jesus has something like all of that – and more – in mind with his prayer. I imagine Jesus was mustering a cosmic kind of loving surrender and holy letting go, filled with all kinds of hope and faith and some measure of fear, too, for what was to come for those he was leaving behind. Would they remember what he taught them? Would they keep the faith? Did they know how much they were loved? Were they up to the challenges that would come their way? Would there be enough joy to make the hard choices, the setbacks, the let-downs, the disappointments, failures and the risk of it all worth it?
Because life in this world is risky, isn’t it? For Jesus it would lead to the cross. For the rest of us, it can mean all sorts of sadness and struggle, too – and death, for certain, one day. There is sickness out here in the real world. There is disease and disaster. There are accidents and addictions. There are bullies and broken relationships and unfulfilled dreams. There are plane crashes and despair and suicide, for crying out loud.
And that’s why Jesus’ prayer matters for us. It reminds us that his words and his ways are of God – and ours can be, too. We are reminded that we belong to something bigger than ourselves – something more than what we can see on this side of the grave. We are reminded that we are in this together – that we are one. In spite of the differences and the divisions the world might try to impose upon us – we are one – bound together by the love and grace and mercy of our Creator.
And because of that, we can do this, people. We can go about our lives in this world – afraid and uncertain more often than we’d like; but filled up, too – as God intends – with even more faith and hope and love to carry on in spite of it. And not just to carry on, but to thrive; and not just for ourselves, but for the sake of the world, in his name. Because our faith rests in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our hope is in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body. And our joy comes in the promise of the God’s life everlasting – to infinity and beyond.