13 May 2018 – 7th Sunday of Easter – 8.00am – Holy Communion – Revd Jonny Scott
I am wearing this simple bracelet between Ascension Day (last Thursday) and Pentecost (next Sunday). These days mark the period of Novena (9 days) which reflects the time between Jesus’ departure from earth to heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is a time when Christians are encouraged to pray for the Holy Spirit, pray that it would come and deeply infuse the lives of particular people known to us. The bracelet, with its five knots, reminds me to pray by name for 5 people – these are 5 people whom I know closely, people who I feel would benefit from the in-working of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Some of them are Christians, some are not. Some of them are to all intents and purposes happy, healthy, well-adjusted individuals; some of them are in pain, or at a loss. They may not be the 5 people who need my prayers ‘the most’ (if there even is such a thing), but they were the 5 names that came to me as I prayed for inspiration. So here they are. Tied to my wrist. Walking with me every day as we wait for the Holy Spirit to come.
It is great comfort to me, therefore, to hear how Jesus prays to the Father for those closest to him. These prayers we have heard come from the great sweeping farewell discourse which Jesus delivers in the run-up to his passion, death and resurrection. The Gospel writer, John, exercises all of his dramatic and poetic flair as he reconstructs the words and prayers of Jesus - -and in this section Jesus focus turns specifically upon his band of loyal followers: the disciples.
I am asking on their behalf
because they are yours
I have been glorified in them
Holy Father, protect them in your name
so that they may be one
that they may have my joy made complete in themselves
I have given them your word
I ask you to protect them from the evil one
Sanctify them in the truth
And for their sakes I sanctify myself.
Jesus words are so personal – so grounded in the fellowship he has shared with these folk. These prayers are no general statement. This is no Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus prays God’s blessing on all who are meek and mourning and persecuted. These are prayers for Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, Philip, Nathaniel, Thomas, Jude and the Sons of Zebedee. As he says at the outset: ‘I am not asking on behalf of the whole world, but on behalf of those who you gave me.’
My wife comes from a large family. Her father was one of 5 siblings. Those siblings were all raised during the war by a Nanny called Kathleen. The 5 siblings had 18 children between them. Those 18 children had had over 50 children of their own by the time Kathleen died 2 years ago. The 5 children in her care begat a family of 73 in 2 generations. Kathleen prayed for each of them by name, every day.
Not because they were her favourite people in the world (though many of them were). Not because they were all desperately in need (though some of them were). But because they were the people she had been given. She had no children of her own. These were the people God had given to her, and she honoured that in her prayers. We might all have a Kathleen in our lives.
Praying for folk by name is a tremendous act of loving devotion. It works on the heart in a magnificent way. And as I thumb each knot of this bracelet, and say each name out loud, it slows my rambling thoughts and allows me a moment of peace directed at God with this person upon my heart.
But this raises a question. Does God forget about those we love when we are not praying for them by name? Because of course we all forget to pray sometimes, and sometimes there are names that are too painful to pray for. What happens then?
Someone far wiser than me once gave this answer. Prayer is not ours, but it is God’s. The waters of prayer are always flowing, like a waterfall tumbling and tumbling without pause or break. That is the Holy Spirit, always interceding for us whether we want it or not. And when we pray, we are taking that person on our heart and holding it out under the flowing waters, letting it be splashed and washed and refreshed. We may forget to visit the waterfall from time to time, but it is always there, always flowing and the sound of it always rumbles in the distance of our mind.
So I encourage you. Keep praying for people by name. Keep searching your heart and reach for those names. Take them and hold them and lift them up and out into the flowing waters of the Holy Spirit, and let them be refreshed. As the water splashes around them, feel the spray on your face and let that prayer refresh you too.