[Jesus said]: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”
As the Easter Season draws to its close, the Ascension of Our Lord being celebrated this Thursday past, the Gospel Reading presents Christ’s Prayer for the Church. What you heard today is the final paragraph of a long teaching that Jesus gave in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, a discourse that ends with Christ’s prayer. Just hours before His betrayal—the first scene of the last act of His mission to bring salvation to the world—Jesus prays for His disciples. Jesus discloses that He will be departing from them, so He prays for their welfare.
But what is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer? What will benefit those whom He is leaving? You heard it in Jesus’ words: He prays for unity among His followers. In His prayer, Jesus speaks about what will happen after His departure: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word. . . .” Jesus reveals that His disciples will be preachers. They will take what Jesus had given them and proclaim it to the world. Through their proclamation, many will be brought to faith in Jesus.
Bringing Christ’s words and works to the nations is the apostles’ great task. But it is done not with their own ability. Such a task is only accomplished because they carry the authority of the Son of God. The power which Christ bestows upon them brings forth the faith in Him. Christ’s authority unites all those who are called to belief to Him, just as He prays: “that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” Jesus’ further statement illustrates more of this: “The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me.”
Jesus’ prayer includes many words that speak about connectivity, relationship, unity. It is so, because that is what is given to those who are brought to faith in Him. A change takes place in them. Those who were far off, separated from the Lord God by their sin, are brought close; they are reconciled. Jesus’ work overcomes the barrier between God and man. Through His sacrifice, sin is atoned for. Through His resurrection, death is conquered. Through His perfection, failures are forgiven. This grants a new status to people, as they are united to Christ and brought into fellowship with His Father who has union with Him.
So how is that unity given? It is accomplished through the work that the Holy Spirit does through the apostles’ proclamation. This is what Jesus states: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” Christ gave that task of bringing testimony to the world to His apostles. It drives the selection of Matthias to replace Judas, as you heard in today’s First Reading: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”
Witness to Christ’s resurrection—proclaiming that the Son of God came down to earth, lived perfectly, died sacrificially, and returned to life—is what brings separated, sinful beings into a reconciled, restored relationship with God the Father. It was so for you. Witness to Christ’s resurrection has brought you into fellowship with God. It has made you a privileged people. None of this is what you have achieved, but what you have been given. For through the witness, you have been made to know who God is—not just His identity, but what He has done for you. Again, Jesus declares this in His Prayer for the Church: “O Righteous Father, even though the world does not know You, I know You, and these know that You have sent Me. I made known to them Your Name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus’ words reveal a great truth about the Godhead: the world does not truly know God the Father. It may know that there is a Creator or a Supreme Being. But it does not truly know His character. It does not truly know the way He considers His creation. The world may have some concept of God’s justice and order, but it lacks knowledge of His mercy and love. But that is precisely what Jesus reveals: “I made known to them Your Name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus reveals the truth about God the Father: that He desires all people to be saved, that He wants His fallen creation to be restored, that He acts for eternal good. Jesus makes this known in His teaching and in His actions. That revealed truth is what the apostles carry into the world. That truth is “for those who will believe in [Jesus] through their word.”
The unity of Christ’s followers isn’t an external arrangement. It isn’t based upon an organization. It isn’t brought through the ratification of some statement of agreement. No, the unity is given through the knowledge and belief in the truth that Jesus reveals. That truth brings to each of Christ’s believers “the love with which [the Father has] loved [Him] to be in them, and [Christ] in them.” This is what unites. This is what brings people of all sorts of languages and nationalities and ethnicities into fellowship and communion with one another. The love that the Eternal Father has for His Eternal Son is in you because you have been brought to belief in Jesus through the apostolic proclamation. And so, you have been made part of the divine household, made children of the Heavenly Father.
This identity has been given to you in your baptisms. Through that action done with the authority of Christ, you are brought into unity with Him. You are connected to the Son of God who was crucified and who was resurrected to reconcile you to the Father. Everlasting life is what you have received; it is made your right as the Father’s children. In
What the apostle sees is the result of the Father’s love being extended to the believers in Christ. It fulfills what Jesus prays for: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Being with Christ where He is—that means being in the eternal presence of God the Father, where the Ascended Christ forever dwells. Seeing Christ’s glory—that means a physical resurrection at the Last Day. That is what the Lord Jesus promises. And His promise is based upon the fact that He has died and has risen; what Jesus vows to give to you is what He Himself underwent.
That promise is extended through the apostolic proclamation. It is what you trust will happen, what you hope in, because you have been numbered among those Jesus prays for: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer is for you to be where He is and to see His glory. You have been given the Divine Name in Holy Baptism, and so you have entry into heaven. And to show that He is trustworthiness, Jesus leaves you a pledge during your time here on earth. It is what we prayed during Lent in the Eucharistic Prayer of Thanksgiving: “[You] have ordained this Holy Supper as a memorial and a seal, in which You give us Your Body to eat and Your Blood to drink: so that we, being in You, as You are in us, may have everlasting life and be raised to a glorious immortality at the Last Day.” So today in that sacrament you will receive again what builds and bolsters that union between you and Christ.
The unity Jesus speaks of isn’t just getting along or the absence of visible strife. No, it is what He accomplishes by bringing life to you through the offering of Himself. It is what the Spirit of Truth gives to you, as you believe in Christ through the apostolic proclamation, having knowledge of God the Father given to you. Such unity comes from connection to Christ’s death and resurrection, drowning and rising in Holy Baptism. Such unity comes from having Christ placed into your mouths and souls through the Lord’s Supper. Jesus prays for you to have this unity. And it is what His Father will bestow because His love for His Son is now yours, just as Jesus’ words have been proclaimed to you: “I made known to them Your Name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.