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The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

The Power of Prayer

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

I have a favourite place to pray. It is a real place, but I have been there only once. A friend who lives up near the Forks of the Credit took me there when I was visiting her. It is a place, the memory of which I cherish, and to which I go in my memory for comfort, for solace, to feel close to God. The journey to the place is part of its charm. My friend led me around a farmer’s field, into a wooded area until we came to the river. At this point the river meanders wide and shallow. There is a path along the riverbank. We followed the path for some time. As we approached a bend in the river, we could hear the rush of water. Then the path ended abruptly. My friend took off her shoes. “The river is the only way forward,” she told me, and I followed suit. As we rounded the bend the river split. We walked through a shallow part of the river around a huge rock and into a cave. The cave extended over the river, and water cascaded into a deep pool. In the centre of the pool was a huge rock. We climb onto the rock and sat there bathed in sunshine, shadows, mist and rainbows. It still takes my breath away to think about it.

Jesus had a place of prayer. When they stayed in Jerusalem, he and his disciples would often spend the night under the trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was located on a slope of the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. A grove of olive trees stood there. The night before he died, Jesus went there with the disciples to pray. Our Gospel for today is part of the prayer, the prayer of one who is praying for those he loves deeply. The moment is intense, the language, deeply moving. Jesus prays for his disciples as they move into a future that lies beyond his physical presence with them. He knows their anxieties. He knows their fears and confusion. He wants to prepare them for what is to follow. He wants them to know that they are not alone, that they will never be alone.

He prays for their reassurance, that they may know God’s comfort. He prays that they may be filled with hope. He prays for peace in their hearts. He prays for God’s continued presence through the community. And he prays for a sense of unity. He prays that they may all be one. That is what Jesus did for the disciples. It is what Jesus did for each of us. It is not a prayer for the disciples alone, but for all of us who believe today, tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.

When we think of the Lord’s Prayer, of course, what comes immediately to mind is the prayer that we say every day. This gives us another Lord’s Prayer, one in which Jesus is praying for us, that we might be strengthened, that we might be unified, that we “may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

What a powerful prayer that is! It is not a prayer that we will all be the same. It is not a prayer that we will agree with one another. It is a prayer that we will be enabled to see more clearly what God has done for us. God brings us together, warts and all, with all our hurts and struggles so that we can learn that it is through our differences that God’s glory truly shines.

There is such power in being prayed for. And yet we do it so reluctantly. We are even more reluctant to have anyone pray for us. Yet it should be a wonderful reminder that we do not have to do everything for ourselves. Others are there offering support. Their prayers are a reminder that we are valued, that we are cared for.

In 1998, I went as a speaker to the Women’s Festival in Harare, Zimbabwe, celebrating the World Council of Church’s Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women. It was a life-changing experience to be a part of that amazing throng of women, twelve hundred strong, but even more life-changing was the partner to partner visit that I made to South Africa. I stayed with a family in Seshego, one of the townships of South Africa. The townships were segregated communities during apartheid. They remain very poor and underdeveloped. The people are amazing. I stayed with a widow, her widowed daughter and two children in their simple home. The youngest of the children, a girl about eight, greeted me with a picture she had made. On it she had written, “’Sesotho”, ‘you are welcome’. Even more astounding from my Canadian eyes, as I entered the home I was invited to pray for the family, and they in turn prayed for me. That is the pattern that emerged everywhere I travelled in Africa. It had a huge impact on me, and I tried to make that a part of my ministry when I returned home. I have to say that in our reserved North American culture it was received with rather a lack of enthusiasm. I reverted to offering prayer at the end of a visit.

If it is powerful to know that others are praying for us, how much more powerful is it to know that Jesus prays for us? So my question to you this morning is, what do you want Jesus to be praying for you right now? I don’t want you to get the idea that all of your problems will suddenly vanish, or that being a faithful Christian will be easy. But what do you want Jesus to know? What do you need? What do you want Jesus to pray for? Is it encouragement as you face a difficult time in your life? Is it for a family member who is ill? Is it patience to be a better parent or friend? Is it joy in the face of the loss of a loved one? Is it for a better world, a safer world for your children to live in? Is it healing of body, mind or spirit? Is it hope when nothing seems to be going right? Is it for peace in your heart? Do you want to thank Jesus for being in your life?

Now think of just one word that sums up what you want Jesus to pray for you. Carry that word with you as you go away from church today. Remember it as you go about your daily living this week. And remember that Jesus is praying for you as he prayed for the disciples. Know the power of Jesus’ prayer. Let that word remind you that Jesus cares for you, that Jesus loves you. To be entrusted with the message of the gospel is to live as people who know we are loved and are free to love. It is to know that Jesus is with us always to the end of the age. Amen
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