Today’s Holy Gospel is from the High Priestly Prayer of Christ Jesus on the evening of Maundy Thursday, on the eve of His Passion. As He prepares to hand Himself over to death on the Cross for the life of the world, so does He also give Himself to prayer on behalf of His Apostles and His disciples. And not only them, back then, but for all who believe in Him through their word. For His whole Church on earth. For each and every one of you. The Lord Jesus prays for you.
The Words that He uses are simple enough; straightforward, clear, and easy words, on their own. But the Mysteries of which He speaks with those simple words are profound Mysteries indeed, impossible for you to grasp or comprehend by your own wisdom, reason, or intelligence. They plumb the very depths of the Holy Trinity.
To know the one true God is eternal life. But the world has not known God. And that is your predicament, as well, apart from Jesus Christ.
Apart from Christ you are in the dark. You are dead and dying. You are doomed to damnation. For you do not know God apart from Christ. And you do not know Christ apart from His Word.
Here He speaks of divine Unity. But what have you known, and what have you experienced in your life? Often it is not unity at all, but division and separation, friction and hard feelings with the people around you, and enmity, ultimately with God. That is at the heart of your sinfulness.
You do not know the divine Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And you do not have unity in your own life. Often even families are torn apart at their very core. Husbands and wives at odds with each other. Parents and children at odds with each other. One time friends alienated from each other. So, what is the division and separation that you find in your own life?
Jesus also speaks of divine Love. But what you have known and experienced is often a very different sort of “love” altogether. Not divine Love, not Agape, but selfish and self-serving love, the sort of love that looks out only for itself. That is the sort of love that you have often had yourself, and that is the sort of love you have encountered in others. A love that is coupled with envy and jealousy, with hatred and hostility. That is not the divine Love of God, who gives Himself for those who hate Him; who has created all things and still preserves them, not because there is something in it for Him, but because He chooses in love to give Himself to others.
Jesus speaks of divine Glory, too, and perhaps that is the hardest thing of all to understand. For the sort of glory that you relate to is that of man’s worldly power and achievement. The glory that comes from winning a contest, a football game or a foot race. The glory that comes from making lots of money, being better and more powerful than those around you. But that is not the divine Glory of which Jesus speaks. That is not the Glory that Jesus shares with His Church.
Your predicament is like that of the world, because in your sin you do not know God. It is your predicament, not only because the sinful world around you picks on you, and fails you, promising things that it does not fulfill, but because you also are all out of sorts, you are sinful and unclean.
In your sins of thought, word, and deed, you are separated and cut off from God and from His life. You are at odds with both God and your neighbor. And you are ignorant of the true divine Glory of the Cross, apart from which you have no life and no salvation.
But you cannot even recognize any of this on your own. And even after the Law of the Lord has brought you to an awareness of your predicament, you still cannot rectify the situation for yourself.
You cannot make things better by any powers or knowledge of your own. You cannot get to know God by research and investigation. You won’t learn to know Him by searching the internet or reading encyclopedias. You don’t truly get to know Him by sitting in a closet and meditating on whatever happens to come to mind. You know God only as He reveals Himself to you.
Take to heart, therefore, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior, He prays and intercedes for you. Just think of that. The Son of God is praying for you. And among other things, His prayer teaches you, by way of example, the life of faith and prayer that you are also called to live. For if the Son of God prays to His Father, then you also ought to pray.
You have heard from the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest Christians devoted themselves to prayer. And St. Paul admonishes you to pray without ceasing. Not the sort of prayer that supposes that you can climb your way into heaven, that you can twist God’s arm or force His hand. But the voice of faith that lives by the grace of God, that recognizes your own weakness and inadequacy.
Yet, even more important than this good example of prayer, is the fact that Christ Jesus Himself is your great High Priest. He reveals the Father to you. He reconciles you to God. He redeems you from sin and death. And He restores you to the Father in Himself, in divine and holy Love.
What Jesus prays is not just wishful thinking. It is the good and gracious Will of God, which the Father accomplishes for you in Christ Jesus. Everything that He prays, the Father answers, and He fulfills. All of this He does for you in Christ, by the way and means of His Cross.
And what this means, and what this amounts to, is that everything Christ Jesus, the Son of God, has with and from His Father — from all eternity, but also in His Incarnation, in His Flesh — all of that, He reveals and gives to you, and He shares with you, by His Word of the Cross.
The Unity of God, that is the Unity He gives to you. The Love of God, that is the Love He shares with you. The Glory of God, that is the Glory that He bestows upon you and His whole Church.
The Lord Jesus Christ has been sent by the Father. He repeats that point in particular three times over just in this short Holy Gospel, and more than that in the course of His High Priestly Prayer. He has been sent by the Father. Not simply as a messenger, not simply as an errand boy, but as the One in whom the Father is known. And in knowing the Father in Christ, you have divine, eternal Life in Him. For He is the very Word of God, now spoken in the Flesh to and for you.
He breathes the Life-giving Spirit of God upon you, and into you, by His Word of Absolution, so that you become a living being. So that, in Christ Jesus, by His forgiveness of sins, you are given to share and participate in the Love and Unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is with that Love that you are loved in Christ: The Love that God the Father has for His dear Son from all eternity, that is the Love that He has for you. And it is in that Unity of the Holy Trinity that you are united, bound to God Himself in Christ, and bound to each other in Him.
This is a Unity that cannot be broken. It is not a unity of feelings or emotions. It is the very Unity of the Holy Triune God, which is eternal and unbreakable. That is the Unity with which you are now united with one and the same God in Christ Jesus.
Now, all of this is by and from and through and with the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the place of true divine Glory. There you see and find the loving Self-sacrifice of God the Creator for His creatures; and not just for His creatures, but for His sinful and rebellious creatures. And that is the Glory of God, which you cannot know; nor can you comprehend it, much less can you believe and trust in it, except by the grace of God, by the Word and Spirit of Christ.
You need His Word and Spirit in order to know God and to live. Which is why, just as He has been sent by the Father, so does He send His Ministers of the Word to preach. To preach the Gospel, to administer His gifts of the Gospel, and to forgive your sins in His Name and stead. That is what He does for you. That is what He is doing for you right now, here in this place, in His Church, in this “Upper Room,” in the House of the Lord forever.
You do not know God apart from Christ, the incarnate Son. And you do not know Christ, nor can you believe in Him, apart from the Ministry of His Gospel, His Word and Sacraments. But here in His Church, you do know Christ in His Gospel, and knowing Him, you know the Father in Him.
For here is the one whom God has sent to you. Here is the one who speaks, not his own words, but the Word of Christ. Who works not his own works, but the works of Christ, your Savior.
Here is the Font set before your eyes, from which the River of Living Water flows freely for you from the very Throne of God and of the Lamb, indeed, from the riven side of Christ the Crucified. Having cleansed you in Holy Baptism, the River of Christ washes your feet in Holy Absolution, so that you are clothed and made ready for the Feast.
You are adorned as a Bride for her Husband. You are worthy to kneel before Him and to receive into yourself the Fruits of the Tree of Life, the very Body and Blood of Christ Himself, given and poured out for you, from His Cross into your body, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
And Dr. Luther is quite right: Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Here you are returned to the Paradise of God. You’re back in the Garden. Only it is even better than it was, on account of the Lamb who was slain for you and for all, and yet, behold, He lives.
Having been united with God the Father in Christ here at His Altar, in divine Love, by the Glory of His Holy Cross, you shall abide with Him forever in heaven, where you shall behold Him with your own eyes, face to face, from your own resurrected flesh. And He Himself shall be your Light, your Life, and your Salvation, evermore and evermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.