This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 8, 2016.
All four canonical Gospels report that Jesus, after the supper and before his arrest, prayed. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the reported prayer is in Gethsemane and poured out in anguish for himself, for his being spared the cup of suffering, yet for the will of God to be done. In John’s Gospel, the reported prayer is in a room with his disciples and is substantially for them, as well as for future believers. The prayer has been understood by the church to be of enormous significance. It has often been called his “High-Priestly Prayer,” because it is offered on the verge of his final sacrifice, making supplication for his people in an intimate sanctity that could rightly be called “the Holy of Holies.”
One measure of its importance to the church is the fact that every year, parts of it are assigned to the final Sunday of the Easter season. The Revised Common Lectionary apportions John 17 as follows: Year A, 17:1-11; Year B, 17:6-19; Year C, 17:20-26. These divisions roughly correspond to the three natural divisions of the prayer: Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5), for his disciples (17:6-19), and for future believers (17:20-26).
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 1, 2016.
This text touches on several themes, not all of them clearly connected, so the first challenge for a preacher is deciding which part(s) of it to preach. The farewell discourse (John 13-17), like other extended speeches of Jesus in John’s Gospel, does not always move with a linear logic but in something more like a spiral. Various themes are repeated in different places, and as the text circles back to them, they do not always seem directly related to what immediately precedes or follows. So here in quick succession we find the themes of loving Jesus and keeping his words, Jesus and the Father abiding with disciples, the role of the Advocate, the peace that Jesus gives, the counsel to have no anxiety or fear, the departure and return of Jesus, his relation to the Father, and a call to rejoice and believe. Connections can certainly be found among these verses, but any attempt to treat them all in a single sermon would likely fail to give any of them its due. The text’s assigned parameters in the lectionary seem arbitrary, and we will likely need to be selective, choosing smaller portions of the text to explore.
A helpful device for understanding the farewell discourse was offered by Fred Craddock, who once compared the disciples here to children playing on the floor and looking up to see their parent putting on hat and coat. The children ask anxious questions: Where are you going? Can we go, too? What will we do while you are gone? Who will stay with us? Jesus answers the first question: “I go to prepare a place for you.” (14:2) He answers the second: “Where I am going you cannot come, but you will come later.” (13:33, 36) He answers the third, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (13:34) The fourth question—“Who will stay with us?”—he addresses no fewer than five times. The text before us includes the second of these. He had already said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth… he abides with you and will be in (or among) you.” (14:16) Now he adds in 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” These words are arresting, and may have useful connections to other parts of our text.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on April 24, 2016.
Our preaching of this text should take into account what precedes it. On this night before his death, Jesus is at table with his disciples. Unlike the other Gospels, John says nothing of bread and wine, but tells instead of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. More than a demonstration of servanthood, it is an acted parable of the laying down of his life for them. He tells them they should do the same for each other. Then he says that one of them will betray him, whereupon Judas departs into the night.
So as Jesus goes on to speak in our text, a basin of dirty water and a damp towel are close by, his listeners’ feet are freshly washed, and there is a conspicuously empty space at the table.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on April 17, 2016.
For most churches that observe the liturgical year, the fourth Sunday of Easter is designated, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” From the early centuries of the church and well into modern times, the day was observed only one week after Easter Sunday, and was regarded as a feast of exceptional importance. On Good Shepherd Sunday each year, the Twenty-Third Psalm is read, as is a portion of Jesus’ “Good Shepherd discourse” in John 10. A different segment of John 10 is read each year: verses 1-10 in Year A; verses 11-18 in Year B; and in our Year C text, verses 22-30.
It may seem puzzling to us that an entire Sunday every year is given to a single image of Christ (and of God) especially one that is so culturally remote from most modern listeners. But the New Testament makes many allusions to Jesus as a shepherd, and even the Roman catacombs are filled with depictions of him as the Good Shepherd. The 10th chapter of John is a rich meditation on the theme, with much to contemplate and to preach.