They were his last words. Actually, no. His penultimate words. Anyhow, the end was imminent, and we knew it. The words carried an impact more forceful than a sword piercing through flesh.
We were oblivious to the fact that the meal we’d just shared was truly the last supper. Strangely, the Master had stripped down to his underclothes, then wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the feet of our team. If you could call us a ‘team’. We weren’t exactly cohesive. Rivalries about money, position, authority and more abounded. Twelve men in the inner circle made for at least 144 ‘issues’ most days, and that wasn’t to mention interactions with others outside the team.
We strolled through the cool evening air. Lights in windows revealed families enjoying the festival, their happy voices gently carried on the breeze. As we walked, the Rabbi taught us with a sense of urgency. Into the magnificent temple grounds we wandered and paused by the offering box, so beautifully decorated with our national symbol – the vine. “As the vine and the branches are one, so must you remain in me,” he explained. “And as such, you must love one another.”
We were exhausted. Plus we’d enjoyed a satisfying meal. Minds wandered. Fogs of fatigue descended.
Finally, at the edge of the Kidron Valley, just across from the olive grove, he stopped. Perhaps my slumped shoulders betrayed the heaviness I felt of eyes, mind and spirit. “Take heart!” he said with a tired smile and a gentle pressure on my shoulders. “I have overcome the world.”
That was more like it. We knew that the redemption of Israel was imminent. I was fortunate enough to have a sword, and grasped it, ready for action. Yet my eyes struggled to stay open.
He, seemingly unstoppable, although surely aching with exhaustion as much as any of us, looked to the stars. “Father,” he began. Did he call God ‘Father’ for our benefit? Indeed, it seemed he intended us to hear this prayer as much as Jehovah.
The Teacher’s voice carried clearly on the calm night air, the noise of town distant from the shrubbery at the edge of the Kidron Valley. Shining in the bright moonlight ahead of us wound the path through the valley which led to the olive grove.
“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one.”
One? Had he not hand-picked our inner circle - this motley band - men, gathered from different educational, social and economic backgrounds? ONE?
“And as they’re one,” prayed the Preacher, “may they know joy – my joy – and be protected from the Evil One.”
I almost chuckled. Joy? In the middle of attacks from the Evil One? What a concept! Right up there with divine standard unity amongst our crazy crew.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Pray-er expanded the beneficiaries of his prayer. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be brought to complete unity….” One? Was he not a prophet? Couldn’t he see that those who would believe might well come from different generations, cultural backgrounds, personality types, socio-economic backgrounds and, heaven forbid, even different nationalities.
The Master beckoned. We crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the olive grove.
They were not quite His last words before the end… or the beginning, however you look at it. His final words to us were sad, imbued with disappointment, but more realistic.
“Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
Some things don't change.
Two millennia later, a community made up of different personalities, cultures, worship-style preferences, languages, clothing and more, could do well to pray, borrowing heavily from our Lord’s words.
Holy Father, protect us by the power of your name, so that we may be one as You are One. Protect us from the Evil One. May we be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent your Son and have loved them. Help us love one another as we abide in you.
Meaningful words, with an impact more piercing than a bullet through flesh. And yet so quickly forgotten. It seems we too easily fall asleep… and fall into temptation.
Church, get up and pray.
Bible passages are from Luke 22:46, John 15:1-17 and John 17. All quotations are from the NIV.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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