I preached this very short homily (4 minutes or less!) at the Diocese of Toronto Postulancy Interview Day. The text we were assigned was John 17:11b-19
This homily has been prepared for the parish of St. Matthew’s First Ave., in Riverdale on the east side of Toronto. A parish of young and old who together are asking what it means to be rooted where we are and how our faith in the risen Jesus might inform those sorts of questions.
I speak to you in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Upon first hearing today’s gospel reading we may note that Jesus is praying for the church. This is a comforting thought, is it not? It’s nice to be reminded that Jesus is praying for us and that he loves us. Is this not why we gather together to worship? To proclaim the love of God that is revealed in Jesus and to have our prayers joined to his eternal one. While this is true, it does not describe the fullness of the gospel. One of the temptations for many of us who enjoy the comforts and privileges of being Christians in North America is to think of God as some sort of cosmic teddybear. That is, we understand God’s love to be some sort of therapeutic consolation, a there-there, pat-on-the-head sort of thing. If there’s anything that we can learn from today’s gospel reading it’s that God’s love is unlike this, that God’s own love may perhaps instead beckon us to risk everything, as God in Christ Jesus has done.
Upon closer examination we see that while Jesus is indeed praying for the church, he is not just praying for the church. Indeed, we might say that Jesus isn’t even primarily praying for the church but that his prayer here is for the world. As Jesus prays immediately following this morning’s passage: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” (17.21).
Jesus prays these words as he is about to leave his disciples. The hour has come for Jesus to be glorified, that is to die (17.1). He has finished the work that he was given to do (17.4) and now it is time for Jesus to leave and return to God the Father (17.11). It is at this point, as Jesus is preparing to leave, that he prays. There is a movement to God’s saving love that is quite beautiful. Jesus is sent into the world with work to do. Once finished, he returns to be with God the Father. However, before he ascends he prays that his disciples would be protected, anoints them by his Spirit for the work they are to do, and then sends them out into the world.
Jesus’ prayer did not consist simply of words. Jesus is this very prayer, in his becoming human for us and in the pouring out of his own life for the sake of the world. In a similar way, the church is Jesus’ prayer for the world. Jesus doesn’t simply bow his head and say a few words for the world. No, he gathers a people around himself, a people taken up into the very life of God, a people called to demonstrate the same sort of tangible self-giving love for the world. So, St. Matthew’s, may we realize that as we gather together to worship the Living God, it is in order that we may be sent out into Toronto, into our neighbourhood of Riverdale, to be broken and poured out, to empty ourselves, in love for one another and for our neighbours so that they may know the risen and living Jesus Christ. Amen.