Sunday, March 21, 2010

What would Jesus pray?

“I think of you every night in my prayers.”

When I heard that said by someone not so long ago, I found it humbling. In a strange way I find difficult to describe it is good to know that someone is thinking of me in their prayers each night.

One or two people say that to me from time to time. This person had said it before. As it happens they are as often as not people who don’t get out, because they can’t get out, are not so active because for various reasons they are not able to be active. But they have a special gift that is particularly important in the life of a church family, in the life of this church family, and in each of our lives. They have a gift of dedicated, committed prayer.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew of someone who remembered us each night in their prayers. The good news of our faith is that we each of us have someone, someone very special who comes alongside us, a soul-mate, a particularly close friend … and who prays for us constantly.

You can dress it up in the high-falutin words of Christian doctrine which tells us that Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, on the third day was raised again to life and sits at the right hand of God the Father – and there he intercedes for us.

I prefer a simple picture … of Christ praying for us day by day.

What would his prayer be.

I want to go back to that Last Supper. It wasn’t the brief re-enactment that has become for us the Lord’s Supper, it was a whole evening – a celebration of the Passover among a group of friends who had become an extended family. After all Passover to this day is a family gathering where all the family come together.

The meal goes on through the evening. Luke describes some of the different cups and the bread that is shared.

But as the conversation goes on unexpected things happen. No sooner has Jesus shared the cup than he speaks of the one who will betray him. Then, Luke tells us there is an argument among the disciples as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

25But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Was this the moment when as John tells us Jesus got up and washed the feet of the disciples?

He then speaks highly of the way he treasures the friendships he has built up with this set of people …

28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then Jesus singles out Simon Peter. The big fisherman disciple Jesus has given the nickname of Rock – dependable, solid as a rock. But he doesn’t use the nick-name – he uses the name Simon.

There is a tone of lament in what he says as he recognises that following Jesus is not straightforward, that times of testing come … and those times can be bleak and fearful.

31 ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

I find that a remarkably moving moment in the course of the supper Jesus shares with his friends.

First, is the realisation that no one can escape the times of testing. They come. They are pretty bleak. Satan has demanded to sift all you like wheat.

What time of testing do you experience?

What time when in that footprints poem it feels as if the footprints are yours and yours alone – that you are on your own.

Think for a moment of that time of testing. Maybe it is something that is happening now, maybe it is something that has happened recently, maybe it is something has happened a while back.

Jesus suggests that time of testing, that time of sifting, that painful, dark time is something that comes to all.

Then comes the moment that is, it seems to me, to be so treasured.

It is a moment that is to be treasured by Simon Peter, to be treasured by all the others around that table, to be treasured by each one of us.

I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

I think that is a remarkable prayer.

It is not that you will escape the testing times. It is that your faith will not fail. There are going to be moments over this testing time of passion tide when faith is tested to the limit. Jesus himself experiences that testing. Later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when he knelt down and prayed, 41Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,42‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’

Luke tells us that Jesus found strength in that moment of praying …

3Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]]

This is his prayer for us … that our faith not fail.

One of the great things of this Passion tide is simply to re-live the story, walk with those disciples and with Jesus on the way of the cross. It is what we are going to set up through Holy Week as we invite people to follow in the way of the cross and reflect on this story. It is powerful.

Powerful, not least to see what happens after a prayer like that is said.

What happens is not an instant cure, an instant answer. It is a journey, a process, and a very difficult path to tread.

45When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

But the time of trail comes … and the party arrives to arrest Jesus in the garden.

Some strike out in his defence – but Jesus says, no more of this and heals the ear of the slave of the High Priest one of the disciples had attacked.

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance.


That took some doing, it took some courage. Maybe that prayer of Jesus stuck with Peter.

I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail;

Peter had been adamant in response.

And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’

So here he was.

55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ 57But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ 58A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ 59Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ 60But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter.

What a look that must have been!

A look that sees into the deepest recesses of the heart.

And then Peter remembered.

Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’

At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

Passion tide is a time of weeping.

These are the tears of a faith that has failed.

It had seemed to be the structure that would hold his life together. A direction, a power. And now it had crumbled.

It had collapsed.

At that point Jesus is mocked, beaten, blindfolded, struck, and insulted.

And then comes a brief phrase. In verse 66. When day came.

In other words Jesus is mocked, beaten, blindfolded, struck and insulted and left alone over night.

Within sight of the Temple mount, the dome of the rock glistening in all its gold in the distance, is a house reputed to be the High Priest’s house. And beneath the first century ruins a dungeon.

You catch the solitariness of Jesus – at that moment.

The words of Psalm 88 have a power to them.

O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,

You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.

One of our number pointed out a connection. It was by the fire that Peter betrayed Jesus, heard the cock crow and broke down in tears.

It was by the fire that Peter met with the risen Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee who three times asked him, Do you love me.

Coming out of the dungeon we found ourselves beside a wonderful sculpture of Peter and two servants, and on the pole beside him a cockerel. With the gold of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple mount in the distance it was a very moving moment.

Video clip

We come back to the prayer.

There is a second part to the prayer Jesus prayed for Peter … and maybe that’s the second part we need to take to heart.

I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’

That’s the power of this prayer.

It is the power of this prayer for us as well.

We do let ourselves down, Christ down, God down … but there is someone praying for us. The prayer Jesus prays for us is so special. He knows us as we are … and he loves us. His prayer is that we once we have turned back we may then strengthen our brothers and our sisters.

Maybe it is the one whose faith has been sifted, who has faced trials, who has been through that time of testing is then hen better able to be a strength to others.

So thank you to all those who have said to me … I pray for you each night.

Though the one I was thinking of at the start was our friend Maurice.

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