“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. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.” John 17:1-8
As you all know in order to grasp the meaning of this or any text we have to read it in context — that is we have to be attentive to both “set and setting.” The “setting” is the physical environment, the place, which in this case is what we have come to know as the “Upper Room.” The Upper Room is presented as a well lighted room, furnished for a Jewish memorial liturgy, stocked with food and water, and filled with the friends of Jesus. Also note that this prayer comes at the end of the evening when it was pitch dark outside. The “setting” also includes what was happening in that room which we know to have been our Lord’s celebration of the Passover with his disciples, his institution of the Eucharist, his kindness and dismissal of Judas, washing of the disciples’ feet, as well as his final words of encouragement and teaching. All that is what I am calling the “setting.” The “set” denotes the “mind-set,” the preparation & expectations, the mood of the individuals disciples and Jesus’ own mood which is revealed by his actions throughout that evening, “on the night in which he was betrayed.” What I wish to do is to focus mainly on the meaning of his expansive prayer with regard to his crucifixion, his gift of the Eucharist, and his prayer for his Church.
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said…”
The evening had drawn to a natural close and it would appear prior to leaving the Upper Room, Jesus look up, lifted his eyes heavenward, and prayed out loud to his Father. This is something his disciples had seen him do before. In John 11 we have the account of his prayer to his Father when he raised Lazarus:
“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” John 11: 41-44
And this is something that his disciples seem naturally to have done themselves, maybe also connected to their experience of his Ascension when it is reported that they stood gazing intently into the sky as Jesus departed when two men said to be dressed in white told them that Jesus would one day return in the same manner they had witnessed him depart. And then again we have Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, addressing the mob in Jerusalem, opening up the whole history of salvation in the Old Testament, when he lifted up his eyes to heaven and looking steadfastly to heaven he declared that he saw the glory of the God of Israel and Jesus standing right next to him. And they stoned him to death.
To look up to heaven is to turn one gaze to the vertical. To lift up your eyes or your hearts and your minds is to look to the highest — which is the source of our analogies that speak of the highest, of hierarchy and of the notion of progress. The horizontal is to look upon that which is parallel to the one’s horizon. But to lift up one’s eye to heaven is to look beyond all earthy things to the heavenly, the transcendental, to that which stands over, hovers over all our terrestrial horizons.
When Jesus had finished what he intended to accomplish in the Upper Room, and in particular his gift of the Holy Communion, he brought that part of the evening to a close with this prayer and I submit to you that his posture and in particular his turning of his gaze from the horizontal to the vertical, from his disciple who were before him to his Father above them all was a perfectly natural gesture that shows what Jesus had said over and over again: that he was sent by his Father — the Apostle of the Father, with a mission which was now in its final hours. Indeed that is just what he prayed:
“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.”
Jesus begins his prayer to his Father by dedicating, consecrating the passion he was about to suffer, including his death on the Cross, to the Father to the end that these final hours of his voluntary suffering and death are to be understood as his glory, that is to say that these next few hours mark the highest moment of life of Flesh. He will not shrink back from the horror that was before him because he means for his life, his suffering, and his death to bring glory to his Father.
“For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.”
At then end of the passage we are studying today our Lord lays before his Father the fact that he had deliver to his disciples the Word of God, the very words, the message, the Gospel, that the Father had given to the Son. All this he has handed over to his disciples in his teaching throughout his mission, from the days of John’s baptism, to this very moment.
This word from God most importantly revealed Jesus relation to his Father, a relation that no one could have known except through his direct communication. No one has seen the Father except the Son and the Son has come to the children of Adam with a word from Father. His disciple have received the Word of the Father from Jesus and specifically that means that they believe in Jesus, which is to believe that Jesus has come from the Father.
This is what he means and what he had taught Israel in his earthly mission: life, real life is first of all a matter of coming to Jesus and receiving him as the Light of the world, as the one who sees the Father face-to-face, as the one who has come down from heaven proceeding from the bosom of the Father, as the one who will judge the world, as the one who will give eternal life to whom he wishes, as the one who deserves, by nature, the same honor that is paid to God the Father, whose glory he shared before the world was — that is what it means to “come to Jesus,” and to walk in the light. It is a matter of receiving Jesus to be just as he understands himself to be and now that his teaching mission is finished he brings his disciples before the Father as his gift. Belief in Jesus is the work that pleases God the Father. True belief in Jesus is equivalent to true belief in the Father. If one does not believe in Jesus one does not believe in the Father. Jesus spoke openly to the Pharisees and all of Israel with the intent to overthrow their belief that by right of natural birth they were the true children of Abraham. Jesus is the Son of the Father made flesh and his flesh is the flesh of Abraham because he is the true seed of Abraham, his flesh is everything to us. If we are in Jesus, we are in Abraham.
And Jesus, in John 17 places his prayer before the Father those who believe in him and thus believe in the Father — that they may have eternal life — that is that eternal life, real life, a life of happiness and beatitude comes from knowing Jesus and thereby knowing his Father.
“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. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.”
Those who believe in Jesus, who have been called out of this sad broken world by the Father and given to the Son, are now to be the means of extending Jesus’ mission throughout the world for the salvation of the world. Now, by this prayer, Jesus is bringing into substantial, visual existence in this world the Congregation of the Messiah, the fulfillment of Abraham’s Promise, the very Church of God. Here is the recorded for us, by the prayer of Jesus to the Father, the creation of the Church of God. The Father’s gift to the Son — the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church will now reach out to the scattered children of God in the world to bring them home to Jesus. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among his people. The Word was made flesh so that we children of flesh may shape and fashion our flesh to the Word of the Father. Without bending our whole life of flesh as well as the rest of the material creation to the Word of the Father made flesh, our end will be a mournful oblivion. These are they who either wish to make flesh everything or to make flesh absolutely nothing. Jesus said that such a way of life, which is a rejection of his life, will end in the forfeiture of real life and happiness. But we are not those who shrink back in unbelief. We are not of the world. We belong to Jesus and he belongs to us. And we know that he has come out from the Father and he intends to bring us and to keep us in perfect love and fellowship with the Father.