“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” John 17:1-5
Today we begin the study of what is probably the Holy of Holies of all Scripture, the 17th Chapter of John. Here is the Prayer of Consecration offered up by Jesus on the eve of his passion and crucifixion. Our great High Priest, consecrates, dedicates his bloody sacrifice upon the Cross to our salvation, to all who have been given to the Son, to the glory of the Father. In the Synoptic Gospels we have preserved for us many of Jesus’ prayers, most of which were lonely prayers, reported with restraint and always laconic. But here in the 17 Chapter of John we have reported an astonishingly detailed, ordered, and sustained plea to his Father in the presence of his Apostles. This prayer right from the heart of Jesus, a prayer that opens up to his disciples Jesus’ own interior life — so much of it kept secret till this very historic moment. Clearly he intends for his disciples to hear this address to the Father and return to it repeatedly after his resurrection in order that they may grasp the meaning of his life as well as the meaning of their life in the most complete manner possible.
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee…”
Here is his solemn consecration of his self, his soul, and his body, in the presence of his Apostle, about to be offered up, to be their perfect sacrifice and their’s only but for the whole world. It is his prayer to his Father that his offering up of himself for the life of the world would also be the mark of his glory. Other kings, Caesars and earthly potentates may display their glory in their military might, in their conquests, and in their royal throne rooms that are lavish in power and wealth; but Jesus’ will display his glory upon the Cross. There he will display before the whole visible and invisible world the glory of God and the glory of flesh. Our God, the God of the Universes, the God who is God, is about to undergo the unthinkable, the impossible — God is about to be crucified. This is the secret heart of God opened up to the Apostles and here they will return over and over again as a deer returns to a secret brook of water for refreshment. Here they will discover Jesus’ irreversible dedication to his disciples. Here they will discover the Church. Here he will uncover their mission in the world. Here they will learn, maybe for the first time, that not only they who are with him at that moment, but all who will come to believe in Jesus through his Church, will also be consecrated to the service of the God who is God. And the secret of all secrets, the greatest mystery hidden from the Old Testaments saints, is revealed — that his consecrated Church, his Bride and Body, will behold the beatific vision, the vision of God in all his glory and they will live with the blessed Trinity forever.
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”
Augustine put it this way:
“All the whole and holy society of the redeemed and sanctified city is offered up unto God by that great Priest who gave 8p his life in so mean a form for us to make us member of so great a head.”
With John 17, the Church, about to be born from the water and blood flowing from the torn and riven side of our Lord, is offered up to the Father. By the means of her sacramental life the Church is to gather up men and women from all nations and tribes and in that gathering all our deepest needs and aspirations discover their finality. The Church visible and gathered up into one Body reminds us to remind ourselves that the true pattern of human life is “neither the unrestricted struggle of individual man against individual men which has become the curse of (capitalism), nor (is humanity’s true way) the submergence of the individual into…” a totalitarian collective state of being. The Church is a sacramental society in which the deeply personal, private, social, and communal hopes and dreams are in an ordered, holy harmony by virtue of our participation in the life of the Trinity. Jesus will pray for us:
“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” John 17:15 & 16
The Church knows herself to be, of Jesus’ will, to be entwined in the life of all of mankind, thus she cannot, without turning her back on Christ, turn her back on the interest, the joys, the sorrows and brokenness of the outside world. There are both private and social consequences for the life our Lord prays for in the Fourth Gospel. And yet it is a false and ultimately futile move to conclude that the Church’s purpose is to be found in the world. Our good for the world begins not in the world but at the Altar. What we have to the offer the world is not our collective politics, good will, or good works. What we have to offer the world, what we have to offer the broken hearted of Charlottesville, VA is to be the Church, to worship God in the Eucharist — to make and to nurture and to extend the Holy Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, the holy people of God. The Catholic Church, as Eric Mascall put it, “exist as a means by which Christ draws men and women into his own self in order that his Body the Church, the new human race, ‘the whole and holy society of the redeemed and sanctified city,’ may be offered to God by the great High Priest.” (Mascall, p.45) Yes, the Catholic Church has overarching implications for the world in which we live, but these implications only have real meaning because we are the worshipping Body of Christ — in which every man and woman may live as a child in the house of their Father as a member of the restored human race. Christ died for the whole world and our sacramental life is the means, the instrument, by which our life, indeed the life of all men and women may be brought under the mercy and grace of God. Again, Fr. Mascall gets to the point: “The sacrifice which the Mass perpetuates (the sacrifice of Calvary) was offered for the sins of the whole world as their full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction. The grace which God pours into the Church through the sacraments overflows the Church’s visible boundaries and floods the whole creation with its regenerative power. It brings under the eyes of God all human misery and suffering, it claims for God every act of human love, it pleads God’s mercy for every act of human selfishness and hate, and it claims all God’s creation as his possession.” (Mascall p. 47)
Over the last month there has been a lot of talk surrounding the angering, sad and sinful events in Charlottesville about heritage. I wish to be clear that this great prayer of Jesus is our heritage, the only heritage that is worth living for and worth dying for. Our heritage is an inward reality — we are really and truly the supernatural, re-created human race, the divine community through which the Son patiently, lovingly, tenderly draws men and women into his own perfect human nature and offers them up to the Father as his own members covered with his own unfading glory.
One day all sacraments shall cease and come to an end because we shall be all gather up to God and know our perfect finality:
“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”
This is our heritage of which all earthly kingdoms and princes are pale shadows. Our true home is to be found in the Father’s house with Jesus. Our citizenship is in Heaven. Our true nation is a royal priesthood, that Thomas Aquinas sings of in one of his greatest hymns: