How Jesus’ Prayer for Us (John 17:20-26) Informs My Faith
Jesus prays — right before He is arrested — that we “may become completely one (John 17:23).” Wow.
Jesus’ prayer is raised up to God, whom Jesus called “Father,” “on behalf of those who will believe in me through their [the disciples’] word.”
I take these as words about us right now, directly about us. And since Jesus prays that we be one, then we have got to do it. This imperative is one way Jesus’ high priestly prayer in the Gospel of John informs my faith, especially as I think of the ongoing dialogue around being one in the body of the church.
I have never considered leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I know many have. I respect that choice though it makes me terribly sad. I understand the view that the unity Jesus is speaking of here is on a higher plane or in a spiritual dimension. I get that people can only stand so much.
At the same time, I look at staying or going in the light of the fact that every human community has tensions and problems. There is no greener grass somewhere else. I am made to bloom where I am planted. I believe God placed me in the PCUSA; this is where I am meant to help fulfill Jesus’ prayer that we be One with other believers in Christ.
I learned a lot about how difficult being one is through my years in the Community of Reconciliation in Pittsburgh, an intentionally interracial congregation founded in 1968 at the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and violent race riots across the country. After several years of prayer and study, the decision to become even more inclusive, by becoming a More Light church, came to a vote. While a few voted against it, no one left.
What holds us together in the Community of Reconciliation? What does it take to be one in the church? We work at it, together. We work at being one as Jesus prays for us to be one. Because of this the Community of Reconciliation continues to be an interracial, and an open and affirming, church where we covenant to be One in Christ.
Jesus ends this prayer for us in John, “So that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26).” There was a concept in “Formative Spirituality,” the program at Duquesne University where I received a Master’s and a Ph.D. degree, that clarified this for me. After all, the love Jesus is speaking of here is elusive and different from our usual, everyday, use of the word, “love.”
Adrian Van Kaam, the primary teacher of “Formative Spirituality,” called it, “form appreciative apprehension.” It means apprehending every person or thing we meet with an appreciation of who that person is and what he or she can become. That is love.
That God loves Jesus means that God apprehends Jesus with an appreciation for who Jesus is. And Jesus’ loving us means that Jesus apprehends us with an appreciation for who we are and what we can become. We love one another when we apprehend each other with an appreciation of the fact that Jesus is in each one of us. In this sense, love is a stance toward others — it is a choice. Through this love we become and remain One in Christ. This kind of love is what it takes to be one in the church.
And, by the by, one reason I appreciate so much the new G-6.0106 a and b in the PCUSA ordination process is the way it establishes our church on the firm foundation of appreciative apprehension — as I see it, on the foundation of the love Jesus prays for here.
Jesus’ prayer for us to be one is fulfilled not by agreement among us, but rather, in our love for God, for Christ and for one another. That’s how John 17 informs my faith. I hope you share with us how it informs yours.
Reverend Janet Edwards