Our passage today from John’s Gospel is from the same scene as the passage last week. From chapter 13 to 17, we see Jesus on his last night on earth, with his friends. We see his tenderness as he washes their feet, his heartache as he serves them bread and wine, eating his last meal with them. We hear his words, his confessions of love, he sounds like he barely keep himself together, as he repeats himself, as shifts from speaking with his disciples to speaking to God while everyone listens. As I said last week, Jesus is a mess of emotions in this scene, this scene which lasts for five chapters, 155 verses of Jesus lingering with his friends for as long as he can, savoring every last moment with them.
Five chapters is a lot to spend on one scene in the Gospels, perhaps even a bit wasteful, in terms of plot development, and in terms of manuscript costs in the first century. Usually a lot happens in course of a chapter, let alone five chapters—they are jam-packed, making the most of every paragraph, each page. For example, in the next four chapters, which takes us to the end of the book, Judas betrays Jesus, who is then arrested and taken to high priest, who sends him to Pilate, who has Jesus whipped then has him crucified, all while Peter denies Jesus on three different occasions. Then they negotiate the burial of Jesus, then he is resurrected and appears to Mary Magdalene, then to the disciples, then to the disciples again with Judas this time, then as he waits around for his friends who are out fishing, making them breakfast on the seashore. Then he makes up with Peter for denying him three times, and finally there’s the ascension. All of that in four chapters. That’s the typical pace for John’s Gospel. Five chapters on one scene is a bit excessive.
I think what’s going on here is that Jesus just doesn’t want to leave. He doesn’t want what he knows will soon happen—his departure, his ascension. So he keeps on eating, and talking, and praying.
As I read these chapters this week, I had a scene from Friends flash through my mind—I know this is a bit ridiculous, to compare the Gospel of John to Friends, but my mind does ridiculous things sometimes. I remembered this scene from Friends. I watched it during high school at some point. In the episode Ross is talking on the phone with his girlfriend Julie for a while, wandering around the room with the phone to his ear, and it becomes clear to everyone else in the apartment that Ross doesn’t want to end the phone call, he just can’t stop talking, he doesn’t want it to end. While still on the phone he settles down on the couch, next to Rachel, who is rolling her eyes, beyond annoyed, as Ross starts repeating the same words into the phone, over and over again, to Julie, in endless repetition: “Ok, you hang up, no you hang up, no you, you, you, you. Ok, I’ll hang up at the count of three—one, two, three. You’re right, I didn’t hang up! You hang up, no you.” Finally Rachel grabs the phone from Ross and ends it. Ross gets all pouty and frustrated.
Jesus doesn’t pray for himself by himself.
Instead he prays for his friends in their company. Jesus is single-hearted, wholly for his disciples, worried about their future, desperate for God to watch over them. Life seems unbearable, unimaginable, without them.
That’s how I think about this scene in John’s Gospel, Jesus with his friends, knowing his time with them will soon end but finding it impossible to let them go, so he drags the conversation on, rambling prayers, words filling the air because he can’t bear the emptiness soon to beset him, the agony of separation.
“As you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,” Jesus prays, “that they may be one, as we are one… I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one,” he says again, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (13:21, 22, 23, 26). His prayer sounds like feverish poetry, with desperate repetitions, pleading to God for them, for their safety, for their enduring companionship even though he knows everything will change after this evening: prayers that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” His minds spins and circles around the looming anguish. He doesn’t want to let them go. His words spiral into a kind of madness at the thought of his future without them.
In Michel Foucault’s History of Madness, he notices that, in the seventeenth century, on the cusp of the so-called Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, as soon as European societies started putting people in mental asylums, as soon as doctors developed a category of insanity to describe some people, as soon as madness became a classification, Christians responded by talking about the madness of Jesus, that Jesus knew such psychological torments, “experiencing in his incarnation all the miseries to which the flesh was heir” (Foucault, Madness, 153). “[T]he path of the Passion was also the path of the passions… of madness” (Foucault, Madness, 154). The passion of Christ was an experience of madness, because of his love, the undying intensity of his love for his people, for this world. His spirit panics at the thought of a future without them.
Jesus doesn’t pray for himself in John’s Gospel like he does in the others. He doesn’t go to the Garden of Gethsemane and pray, by himself, for all of this to pass, that he wouldn’t have to face the cross: “God,” he prays in Matthew’s Gospel, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
There’s none of that here in the passage we heard. Jesus doesn’t pray for himself by himself. Instead he prays for his friends in their company. “I am asking on their behalf… protect them from the evil one” (13:9, 15). Jesus is single-hearted, wholly for his disciples, worried about their future, desperate for God to watch over them. Life seems unbearable, unimaginable, without them.
This whole scene is a picture of what God is like. Because the life of Jesus reveals the life of God to us. And what we see in this story, in whole story of John’s Gospel, is a lovesick God—that God fell in love with world.
Today is the end of the Easter season, the last of seven weeks of Easter, a period of time when we remember the meaning of the cross and resurrection, the hope of the gospel.
Our Easter hope turns to this Jesus, who pours out the life of God into this world, into this life—this resurrected Christ who shows us that the life of God is a love, a love that longs for fellowship around a table, to be reunited with friends, the friends of God, with people who cherish this world like God does.
Resurrection means that there’s a love always hiding in the dark, God’s life in the silence, mysteries in the madness—because Jesus keeps on coming back, perhaps unknowable at first, like the disciples in Emmaus who didn’t recognize him until after he left,like Mary Magdalene who thought he was an ordinary gardener, like Thomas who doubted until he saw the wounds, like the next stranger you meet.
Easter means that Jesus keeps on coming back, to be with his friends, to be with us, to be with you, as a source of love—that, as Jesus prayed, the love of God may be in us, healing what has been wounded, stitching what has been torn apart, holding us even when we feel like we’re falling apart.