Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.John 17:11b RSV
This is the great prayer Jesus prayed before he went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is leaving these disciples by means of the garden, the betrayal, the judgment seat of Pilate, and the cross, and to them it appeared that he was abandoning them. They felt frightened, helpless, alone, and unable to understand what was taking place. They could not see that our Lord was merely introducing a higher and a better relationship to them.
Do we not feel this way? God leads us to a place of change and we are frightened by it. We wonder if we are not losing everything we held dear in the past. We scarcely realize that God is but leading us to a higher, a newer, and greater relationship. Like these disciples, we are frightened and fearful.
My concern is how to convey something of the gripping reality of these requests of Jesus, something of the intense practicality of what he is saying. I am so afraid that we will fail to realize that Jesus here is actually praying for us — for what he prays for his disciples he prays for us. Notice the plea that Jesus utters for his disciples.
Holy Father, he says,
Keep them, (John 17:11b RSV). Later he said,
I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. (John 17:15a RSV). This is the theme of his prayer: That they might be protected and kept.
Why? There are so many things that I would pray for if I were in his place. They are the usual things we pray for one another. Why didn't Jesus pray,
Use them, or strengthen them, or teach them, or guide them? This is what we would pray for each other. But when he comes to this place where he is leaving them and he wants to put into one brief phrase all that is his heart's urging and desire for them, he sums it up in those two little words: keep them.
All of this simply points to the fact, highlighted for us here in this prayer of Jesus, that relationship is the supreme thing. Whom we are with is far more important than what we do. Our Lord, aware of that, gathers all of these requests in these words,
Keep them, Father, keep them. Whom you fellowship with determines what you are, so his prayer is that our relationship with the Father remain intact, for then all else he desires will come from that. So he prays,
Lord, thank you that you prayed for me, and thank you that I can know that your prayer is being answered and that you will keep me to the very end.
At the center of life's unnerving, destabilizing circumstances is Jesus' prayer for us to be kept. Do we cling to the flotsam of our own devices, or are we learning to take refuge in the certainty of His purpose, and the supreme power of his prayer for us?