Glory. That’s what Jesus’ prayer is about here in the Gospel of John. Glory. “Glorify your Son,” Jesus prays. It’s chapter seventeen, almost the end of the Gospel. We are coming to the climax, to the end toward which the whole event was aiming from the philosophical beginning and the first miracle with water into wine and the wonder that ensued. Glorify your Son. “Your Son,” he prays. Not me. He doesn’t say, “glorify me,” which is what you’d expect if it was just a prayer between Jesus and his Father. No, it’s not just a prayer; it’s a sermon, an announcement, a word of encouragement for those who are about to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s not a prayer like we understand prayers. It’s a pastoral prayer, where the pastor prays words that the congregation doesn’t have words to pray, but they can nod along as though those are exactly the words they were longing to say. Jesus prays like that, for them and for himself too. But through him, through his life and his suffering and his death, he prays for them. He puts the words in their mouths.
Of course, the prayer could be a construct. Since the Gospel of John was written many years after the event, this prayer could be a prayer made up of the prayers of the church, of leaders and followers, and hopes and dreams. It could be a prayer that was really a theological treatise on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. “Glorify your Son” as a way to explain to those who come after the event what it all means. But then again, maybe Jesus prayed this way for those who haven’t yet made it through, so that they had a word to hang on to when the wind begins to howl and rain begins to fall, a word to cling to when the ground trembles and the temple shakes: “Glory.”
Do yourself a favor; listen to the amazing Oscar-winning original song by John Legend and Common from the movie Selma:
It begins “One day when the glory comes / it will be ours, it will be ours / oh one day when the war is won / we will be sure / Oh glory (Glory, glory).” It’s not about completion, but about hope. It is not the victory chant, though victory is assured. Glory. It is not that there isn’t suffering to come, but that there is redemption to be found even in the midst of suffering. Glory. It’s not that everything is good and right and whole, but that goodness and justice and wholeness are in sight. Glory.
What a word to have on the tip of our tongues when things seem uncertain. Glory. Not the glory of this world – awards and prizes and offices and achievements; not the glory of celebrity or wealth. No, “glorify your Son” because your Son is glorifying you by finishing the work, by accepting the cross, by taking the nails, by breathing through the pain. He was glorifying God by dying. It’s true: it sounds . . . barbaric. This is the stumbling block that Paul talks so much about. How does this cruel and painful death give God glory? Wouldn’t living be a better way to glorify?
Yes. It is a better way. For us. We are called to live, to hand over our lives to him and live. Live fully, live joyfully, live united. His dying prayer is that we might learn to do this living thing together. Together. That’s how we finish this work that he has given us to do. By living fully, joyfully, and united. In peace. Shalom, the fullness of all that God has in store for us. Our lives give God glory, because Jesus’ death gave God glory. Because he finished, we can finish. Because he was faithful, even unto death, we can be faithful in all of life. And give God glory.
Because he was poorer than he had ever been before, he gave away everything, not holding back even the blood in his veins, the breath in his lungs. Because he became poor, he was rich in glory. “Glorify your Son,” he prays before those confused and soon to be terrorized disciples, glorify even in death, so that there is glory in life. “I’ve glorified you,” he prayed, by finishing the work. And a day later, he says from his place of execution, “It is finished.”