Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is it I ?

When one knows one is ‘on death row’ and is going to die, whether by sickness, or by execution, I think it’s customary for the condemned to make a final request. What comes to my mind is a man facing a firing squad asking for a last cigarette. Small consolation to the likes of me who have never smoked. What would I ask for, really, if I were standing against that wall, knowing that in a moment it would all be over? At that point, I’m not sure anything material I could have would be worth the asking. Maybe I’d ask for a last drink of cold water. What would you ask for?

Someone might respond—I might respond if I weren’t so darned self-conscious—that he’d like a moment to make one final prayer. After all, if you know you’re going to meet your Maker and have some moral sensibility and doctrinal belief, ‘make peace with your adversary while on the way to trial,’ you might want to confess your earthly sins while you still have breath. You know you can’t escape being dragged to court, but maybe, just maybe you can settle your accounts outside and avoid being harshly sentenced by the judge. I think we all know what I’m talking about.

Consider Christ, the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. What was his last request? He knew—the friends he had just eaten supper with didn’t really—he was going to die, and that it was for real, not just in appearance. His last request was his prayer to the Father, the one called his ‘high-priestly prayer’ that his beloved friend John recorded from memory in his gospel. This prayer wasn’t quite finished in our hearing, though, for when Jesus had gone to the garden of Gethsemane, he continued it while his disciples, even while we, had fallen asleep. What we missed we’ll never know.

But we can overhear his prayer after his last supper with his friends. What did he pray for? Let’s have a hearing. ‘Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you; and, through the power over all mankind that you have given Him, let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him.’ This does not sound like the kind of request a man who knows he is about to go to his death would make, not unless of course he were very sure about two things: that He is the Son of God, and that his Father can do anything He requests.

I take back what I said about not hearing the last part of his prayer. I forgot that, though John doesn’t record his words, evangelist Luke does. I wonder how he knew. In the garden Christ prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.’ From this part of his last request, we have learned that Jesus of Nazareth was at least a real man, a human being, for sure. How could someone who starts out asking for what seems a complete impossibility close his request with what seems to be abject resignation?

Returning to John’s gospel, what else do we find? Does Jesus pray for himself in his last request to the Father? Not exactly. ‘I pray for them; I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you.’ He continues praying for those whom God has given Him. ‘Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.’ He doesn’t seem to be concerned at all about the fact he is shortly to die. In fact, in his prayer he affirms, ‘I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.’

As it is, it appears that Christ’s last request was nothing for himself at all, but for us, and he was asking the only One he was absolutely confident would be able to grant his request. He asks for one thing, though, again and again, each time in slightly different terms. ‘I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me, and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one.’

Nothing for himself, except that he be glorified, whatever that means. (We know what it means now, but we didn’t then. Only he knew he was going to reign from the Tree.) Everything he asked for in his last request was for us. Everything. At least, I think it was for us. We’re the ones he refers to when he says, ‘but for those also.’ But I am hesitant for this reason. If he prayed for us, and if his Father in heaven was sure to grant his request, what are we doing? As bystanders to his death by torture, as hearers of the good news of his resurrection, as witnesses of his ascension to his Father, what is our last request?

‘Lord, is it I, is it I?’

1 comment:

Randy Hurst said...

Ah, that we be one. Just as He said.