Matt and I got our dog Henry from the Augusta SPCA in December. He was a pitiful little thing when we got him, very sick and very shaken by whatever had happened to him. He’s fairly healthy now, and very sweet and more or less adjusted, despite a tendency to eat dirty Kleenex and dead frogs. Despite his good health, I just hate leaving him when we go out of town. I am never sure how he is going to react when we go. When we left at Christmas, even with a dog sitter present, he tore up the Christmas tree and a piece of baseboard. When we left on our last trip in April, he ate a healthy portion of a new book Matt had bought. When we leave the dog, I am concerned about him on many levels. First, what if he harms himself? Secondly, what if he destroys our house? and finally, what if who ever is watching him never speaks to us again?
Leaving loved ones is hard. While it is stressful to leave a dog behind, it can be heartbreaking to leave people behind, especially if you know you will not see them again. Letting go is hard.
This is exactly where we find Jesus in our Gospel reading today.
Our Gospel reading takes place during the last supper. Jesus has just made a long speech to his disciples and now he is offering a prayer on their behalf. He knows he only has days to live and that during his death, and before his resurrection, he will not be able to contact his disciples in any way. He will not be able to reassure them, to explain what is happening. He will not be able to inspire them with his words or calm them with his presence. And so, Jesus does the only thing he can do. He prays to his Father.
Jesus prays that he would be glorified. We think of glory in terms of praise and adulation, but that is not what Jesus means. When Jesus asks to be glorified, he asks to be restored to the state he was before he was human. After all, in the beginning of the Gospel of John, John reminds us that Jesus was the Word who was with God before the creation of the world. Jesus’ prayer jolts us into remembering that Jesus was not just a really, really nice person, he was GOD incarnate.
Jesus does not want to be glorified back to his old self for his own benefit. He wants to be glorified so his followers can experience eternal life. And again, Jesus describes eternal life as something different from what we might expect. We think of eternal life as something linear. We think eternal life means having an infinite number of days before us, stretched out into the future. However, Jesus does not describe eternal life in that way. Jesus describes eternal life as knowing God. What Jesus wants for his followers in his absence is for them to have a deep, knowing, loving relationship with his Father.
In the second part of the prayer, Jesus describes this beautiful and reciprocal relationship he has with the Father. Among other things, he says, “the word that you gave to me, I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.” Jesus sees himself here as an intermediary between his Father and the people that his father loves. This prayer reveals an intimacy about the way Jesus and the Father communicate, and what is even more astonishing-that they want to invite us, their followers, into their intimacy.
Saying goodbye to those you love is never easy. Jesus was not worried about his followers chewing on old Kleenexes or wrecking a house because of their anxiety. He was probably worried about Peter’s faith-and whether he would be up to the task of leading the Church. Jesus was probably troubled because he knew that Judas’s act of betrayal would destroy Judas as much as it would destroy Jesus. Jesus probably grieved the thought of his beloved community being splintered into pieces after they had all gotten to know each other so well. Maybe he was afraid some of his followers would lose their faith in him and be deeply disappointed.
What Jesus wanted for his followers after his death was for them to be enveloped in the love of his Father. He wanted his death and resurrection to unite his followers and for them to experience God’s love in a new way. But even Jesus could not control what happened to his friends. Even Jesus had to let go and turn to God and offer his loved ones to God.
So, who do we think we are to hold onto people, to control people, to protect people when even Jesus knew it was not his role! We all have someone in our lives who we just wished made better decisions. We all have a child who is too distant from us, or a friend who keeps dating horrible people, or a boss we can see making stupid decisions for our company, or a spouse who can’t seem to learn to pick up his socks, or a loved one that struggles with addiction. Of course we are called to care for them, but we must not forget that ultimately we have no power over them. Ultimately, the welfare of another person is not in our control and the best thing we can do, is to follow Jesus’ example and turn our loved ones over to God.
Remember, God wants to invite each of us into a loving, reciprocal relationship with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God longs to know and be known to each of us and everyone we love. It is in that loving relationship where we experience forgiveness, healing and all the things that make us better people. When we pray for our loved ones who are struggling, we hand them over to the One who made them and loves them even more than we do. When we pray we are reminded that we are not alone, but we are in relationship with a God who has been in our position, who has loved a group of people and been afraid of what would happen if he were not there to lead them.
This very Jesus, after being incarnate, after being enfleshed, died, became glorified and resumed his pre-embodied state of being all so we could know God better, so that we could freely pray and beseech God and feel God’s presence without the help of any intermediaries. This is a God we can trust with our loved ones, even my dog Henry. This is a God who will help us let go.