Text: John 17:1-11
Date: Easter VII + 5/28/17
This is an odd Sunday. ‘Always has been. It is still Easter, our continued celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s been 43 days. On the 40th day this past Thursday we remembered our Lord’s Ascension, “Up through endless ranks of angels… To His heavenly throne ascending” (LSB 491). And now we wait for this glorious season to deliver us to the more glorious, great 50th day of Pentecost. But what are we to do right now, this Sunday, while we wait? In the first chapter of Acts we join the apostles waiting and wondering what’s next. The Old Testament festival of Pentecost awaits, but they have no idea it will be any different than any past celebration. Meanwhile, they take care of the detail of replacing Judas Iscariot with Matthias so that they now number twelve again. Great. And so?
Recall how Easter began, with the wonder and amazement of the empty tomb and Jesus appearing to His disciples. Then we were urged to take that fact and reality of the resurrection back into the words Jesus had spoken, especially on that night in which He was betrayed at that last and final Passover. The 14th chapter of John’s Gospel recalls for us Jesus’ words, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and His promise to send the Holy Spirit that He may leave us not as orphans. His death did not deprive us of His love or salvation for He is risen, that is, He’s still “Emmanuel,” He’s still God with us.
Saint John, you recall, doesn’t repeat the institution of the Lord’s Supper that night. He lets you read about that in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But dear John does give us four whole chapters of everything else Jesus did and said that night. Now, today on this “in between” Sunday we skip over the next two chapters and hear our Lord’s Prayer. No, not “that” one. But what a contributor to our Lutheran Formula of Concord, David Chytraeus, called the “precatio summi Sacerdotis,” the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. That one, quoted in John 17.
It was an odd prayer. For as ignorant as were His first disciples (as ignorant as are we) in this prayer our Lord teaches what may sound like one of the most convoluted and challenging theological doctrines, namely, the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. Why did they need to know that then? Why do we need to know that now?
That Jesus was not only praying but also teaching is shown by the fact that He prayed this prayer out loud so the disciples (so that we) could hear His words. In other words, He could have taken a moment and prayed it silently for Himself. But they and we are to hear these words in order that we may understand and believe that He, Jesus, is the Son of God and our Savior.
When He prays, “the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,” He is primarily referring to His impending crucifixion, but then also to His glorious resurrection, and then His ascension and session at the right hand of the majesty on high. This is the “glory” he had in the beginning as the Son of God through whom all things were made. It is the glory now of His work of redemption when He took on our human nature of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, for a time, veiled this divine glory behind His authentic human nature. He didn’t give up or empty Himself of His divinity. It was merely veiled. He always was, always is and always will be the incarnate Word of God, how did John say it to begin with? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
“I glorified You on earth,” He prayed to His Father, “having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” It was His glorious life of perfect fulfillment of God’s Law for us and for our salvation, then His innocent suffering on our behalf and enduring our death by which He has taken away the condemnation of God’s Law against our sin, that is, taken away our sin, and “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10).
And now He prays, “Father,” (He calls God His father three times in this prayer), “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” And there, in those words lay either the false doctrine that He somehow emptied Himself of His divine nature during His earthly ministry or the pure and true doctrine that He always possessed these two natures, human and divine through it all.
Our hymn of the day teaches this important doctrine when St. Columba has us sing of the crucified, risen and ascended Lord, saying, “He sits upon the throne Whence He had ne’er departed.” He had never departed His heavenly throne or His divine nature. It was only veiled for a time on earth.
St. Columba (421-497) describes the earthly suffering and resurrection of Jesus in his third stanza:
Down through the realm of darkness
He strode in victory,
And at the hour appointed
He rose triumphantly.
And now, to heav’n ascended,
He sits upon the throne
Whence He had ne’er departed,
His Father’s and His own. (LSB 539:3)
The glory was His Father’s and it was also His own. In His ascension to the right hand of God to exercise the power, reign and rule of God over the universe “and over all flesh” (v. 2), the only difference is, there is now a man running the universe! As Jesus did not give up His divine nature when He became the Son of Mary, so he has not given up His human nature when He returned to His glorious, heavenly throne. That is why He can say to us to this day, “Take and eat, take and drink, this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He still has His human nature, our human nature. In Him the whole human race is exalted to what it never could be on our own.
Take Him at His word. Take Him as He gives Himself to you. And give Him the acknowledgement of His glory that he had with the Father before the world existed, His glory he demonstrated on the cross, in the empty tomb of His resurrection and His ascension into heaven. Oh, and one more thing. In seven more days, remember His promise to send another Helper, the Spirit of Truth.