An Answered Prayer: Duane W.H. Arnold
An Answered Prayer
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, even as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us…”
In the last hours before his arrest, trial and death, Christ is praying for us. He is praying specifically for each one of us. He is praying for Michael, and Kevin, and Dan. He is praying for Xenia, and Alan, and Linn. He is praying for each of us, as though it were by our names. He is praying for all of us who have believed the report of the disciples that God has come among us in this person, the person of Jesus Christ.
As Christ prays for you and for me, he makes two requests. Firstly, that we might be one, one with each other and with God. “I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world might know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.” Secondly, Christ prays that we might behold his glory, the glory that was given to him in the Father’s love before the foundations of the world.
Unfortunately, there are some of us, myself included, who are sometimes tempted to believe that Christ’s prayer has gone unanswered, or, at least, that the answer has been postponed. We point to the divisions of the church. It seems as though things are getting worse rather than better when it comes to Christian unity. We look at the enmity between Christians, both corporately and individually and often despair. When we speak of sharing in the life of God, or of beholding Christ in his glory, it is usually in the context of describing what we believe will take place at his coming, or after death when, following some process of purification, we arrive at the beatific vision. Still, we are left, it seems, with an unanswered prayer.
Perhaps, however, this might miss the meaning of Christ’s prayer for us. We think primarily in terms of unity as we understand it, that is, unity among ourselves now, or possibly the unity of the Church in the age to come. Yet, is this what Christ is praying for in his final hours?
Certain of the Church Fathers understood this prayer very differently. For them the unity of which Christ speaks, of which he desires us to be a part, is the unity of God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He prays that we might enter into the life of the Holy Trinity and behold his glory, not in some distant time to come, but now, today, in the everyday lives that are ours.
In fact, in this understanding, you may have already experienced that unity and that life today. This morning you might have started your day with a prayer. You lifted your voice to your heavenly Father. Yet, what is it that is prompting you to pray? As Christians we recognize that what is prompting us to pray is also God – God the Holy Spirit, within us, so to speak, moving our hearts. Yet we also know that our real knowledge of God has come through the revelation of Jesus Christ, the man who was God. Moreover, we know that it is Christ who in some sense is standing beside us, helping us to pray and, indeed, still praying for us.
Do we perceive what is happening? We have, if only for an instant, entered into the very life of the Holy Trinity and, as each of us prays and enters into that life, we find ourselves at one with every other person – past present or future – who has likewise touched the life of God. This interpretation would suggest that the unity for which Christ prayed, although often hidden from our sight, is, in fact, the reality in which we as Christians are called to live out our lives and it is there, in those moments in which we touch the life of God, that his love and our unity is truly made known to us. Might it also be true that it is in those moments of love, life and prayer in which we catch a glimpse of Christ’s glory. As Irenaeus, a second century martyr wrote, “The Glory of God is the man who is fully alive; and the true life of man is the vision of God”.
If this is true, and I believe that it is, then all of us who name the name of Christ are not only the object of his prayer, we are the answer to that prayer as well.