St. Mary Church
Cambridge, MA

The Beauty of the Christ's Prayer

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at St. Mary Orthodox Church

The Lord seems grounded and focused as he prays this long discourse-like prayer on the eve of his passion. When you might expect that fear and anxiety would distract him and overwhelm him, they don't. He seems to be utterly non-resistant to the fear he must have been feeling and to the fate that waited for him. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t feel it. The picture John paints is of prayer in the midst of almost unspeakable anguish.

Part of him must have been terrified yet he does not blend with it. Fear does not overwhelm him. His humanity is real. He does not try to run from his fate or hide from his accusers. He remains calm in the face of his pain and prays for others. He stays in the Garden where he and his disciples were known to hang out and waits for his arrest; 

Jesus was grounded in God, in himself and in the moment no matter what it offered, good or bad. In other words, he was non-resistance and accepting of each moment as if it was the will of God. Acceptance is an aspect of faith that God is in all things and all things are in God. If this is true, then there is no need to worry about anything. Non-resistance means that in accepting each moment as it is one can see clearly what must or can be done. Non-acceptance and resistance to What Is is the source of suffering. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. A strong spiritual life is based on these things.

The faith that makes it possible to remain clear and focused and accepting of every moment, light and dark, pleasant and painful, does not result in a painless life, but in a life that remains peaceful and content in the midst of pain. Like St. Paul who tells us that he learned how to be content in all things.

Here is a prayer from the Jewish Sabbath Prayer Book, attributed to Mishkan Tefilah. It is a prayer that calls us to open our eyes to the wonder of every moment, both of joy and sorrow, of the Wedding Feast at Cana and the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a prayer that awakens and consoles and opens our eyes to the Presence of God. I can imagine Jesus reflecting on such deep and contemplative wells on that fateful night.

Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing. Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.”

A most wonderful part of this long prayer we did not read today is where he speaks of a mystic unity between God, himself and his disciples..."that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us...that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one..."

He prays that his disciples and those "who believe through them" might become conscious of unity that exists, that God has given them through him. In actuality, this is reality. For this we were created. In God we were created. This is the very ground of human being, union with the One who created and sustains us. Without this intimate communion nothing would exist and nothing does exist. God is the life of the world. That is the meaning of these words from the great Psalm of Vespers:

When you hide your face,
    they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit,
    they are created,
    and you renew the face of the ground.

Seeing his face, creation is happy. With his Spirit creation comes forth and is sustained. The breath God gives or takes away is his breath, for the Holy Spirit is the breath of Life. When we breathe, we breathe God.

I was listening to a teacher by the name of Rupert Spira who was asked about how to pray and he remembered a beautiful hymn he was taught to recite every day in grammar school. It seems to me a most perfect way to pray. It gets to the very heart of what prayer is supposed to be and that is communion and union. So, I offer this prayer to you for your consideration.

God, be in my head and in my thinking.
God, be in my eyes and in my seeing.
God, be in my ears and in my hearing.
God, be in my mouth and in my speaking.
God, be in my heart and in my understanding.

Praying in this way we participate and say yes to the Lord’s longing in High Priestly Prayer that we realize our union with the Holy Trinity. We are praying for God to be the self in Myself. God be present in me and let you become me and me become you even as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father.

By our awakening to this reality and to this calling, we become ourselves the answer to the Lord's prayer returning to our original nature, to what God created us to be.