• Steven Marsh

Peace–Glory Known in the Context of Crucifixion: a Reflection on John 17:1-11

Living in personal brokenness, the brokenness of others, and that of the world is burdensome. Yet, the good news of this last Sunday of Easter, the good news of the gospel in fact, is that God meets us in suffering. We can be grateful. Hope is! God does what God promises. And, there is peace in that God the Father leads us to contentment and well-being regardless of circumstances. We see Jesus at work and receive protection from the Holy Spirit.

Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, embraces suffering, his clients’ and his own. He writes,

Trina Garnett was the youngest of twelve children in the poorest section of Chester, Pennsylvania…Her mother’s death, and the desperate circumstances all exacerbated Trina’s emotional and mental health problems…Late at night in August 1976, fourteen-year-old Trina and her friend, sixteen-year-old Francis Newsome, climbed through the window of a row house in Chester. The girls wanted to talk to the boys who lived there…Trina lit matches to find her way to the boys’ room. The house caught fire…the two boys who were sleeping in the room died from smoke asphyxiation. Their mother accused Trina of starting the fire intentionally, but Trina and her friend insisted it was an accident… [Trina’s Court] appointed lawyer thought she was incompetent to stand trial…But…failed to file the appropriate motions or present evidence to support an incompetency determination for Trina…Trina was forced to stand trial for second-degree murder in an adult courthouse. At trial, Francis Newsome testified against Trina in exchange for the charges against her being dropped. Trina was convicted of second-degree murder…under Pennsylvania law, the judge could not take the absence of intent into account during sentencing. He could not consider Trina’s age, mental illness, poverty, the abuse she had suffered, or the tragic circumstances surrounding the fire…. mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was the only sentence…Now sixteen, Trina walked through the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, an adult prison for women…Not long after she arrived…a male correctional officer…raped her…Trina’s baby boy was…placed in foster care…In 2014, Trina turned fifty-two. She has been in prison for thirty-eight years. She is one of nearly five hundred people in Pennsylvania who have been condemned to mandatory life imprisonment without parole for crimes they were accused of committing when they were between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. It is the largest population of child offenders condemned to die in prison in any single jurisdiction in the world.”[1]

Bryan Stevenson’s organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, represented Trina. They fought to get her sentence reduced and arranged a visit with her sisters to see her son. Pursuing equal justice is not easy and there is always a cost. Suffering.

John 17:1-11 is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples then and now. We receive assurance and certainty in Jesus’ prayer. The text makes three points for our consideration regarding how to receive glory in the context of crucifixion, that is, suffering. First, we know the Father’s name. When we look at Jesus, we see God. Jesus claimed to be one with the Father. Jesus is the I am. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world.” And God’s name is, “I am who I am.” Second, Jesus gives us knowledge of the truth. That is, when we worship the “I am who I am” we are encountered by and encounter the Truth. When we learn about the “I am who I am” in our study of the Bible and connect with others in fellowship, we are encountered by and encounter the Truth.  When we serve others, and give generously of our finances, we are encountered by and encounter the “I am who I am.” And third, Jesus promises us protection. Jesus lives his purposes in and through us, all the while protecting us by the Holy Spirit. The “I am who I am” emboldens us to accomplish God’s good will and pleasure. Jesus makes these three things known: the name of the Father, knowledge of the truth, and the promise of protection. Why? For Christians to experience unity. Christians are to be one just as Jesus and the Father are one.[2]

We live in a pluralist world. There are many political and religious views. An authentic pluralist, when it comes to religion, would argue that that no one religion contains the whole truth, and thus all religions are equally valid. Tim Keller, pastor of Church of the Redeemer, a Presbyterian Church in America congregation in New York City, relates the following:

A common analogy is cited—the blind men trying to describe an elephant. One feels the tail and reports that an elephant is thin and flexible. Another feels a leg and claims the animal is thick as a tree. Another touches its side and reports the elephant is like a wall. This is supposed to represent how the various religions only understand part of God, while no one can truly see the whole picture. To claim full knowledge of God, pluralists contend, is arrogance. I occasionally tell this parable, and I can almost see the people nodding their heads in agreement. But then I remind them that the only way this parable makes any sense is if you’ve seen a whole elephant. Therefore, the minute you say, “All religions only see part of the truth,” you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And you are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance you accuse Christians of.[3]

Christians are to be “one” just as Jesus is one with the Father. We can have unity without uniformity.

Might you agree that disunity has become the leading mark of the Church? We have the Roman Catholic Church; the Orthodox Church; many Protestant denominations; and a plethora of independent churches. The Church argues over non-essentials, as if they were essentials. We argue about women in ministry, alliances with this group or that group, the relationship between church and state, and how the church is to participate in the issues and matters of the world. Linda Lee Clader, Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Homiletics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California writes, “Do we trust that God does hear prayers and does answer them? Do we also trust that God heard Jesus’ prayer that we all might be one? If we do, then our problem may be with our own assumptions of what unity is. We may need to think differently somehow, when we think about Christians ‘being one.’”[4]  If we trust Jesus, then we must let go of our need for uniformity and focus on unity. We would do well to consider a saying attributed to Rupertus Meldenius, an undistinguished German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”[5]

Love wins. Death loses. There is glory in crucifixion, that is, suffering; redemption in brokenness; and hope and peace for real people, who live in a real world, who have real needs. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”[6] This is Geneva’s niche.

[1]Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (New York City, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014), 148-151.

[2]For more insight on being “one with Jesus,” read Linda Lee Clader in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 539.

[3]As cited on preachingtoday.com. The citation is found in Timothy Keller, “Preaching Amid Pluralism,” Leadership Journal (Winter 2002, vol. XXIV, no. 1), 34.

[4]Linda Lee Clader in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, 541, 543.

[5]I thank Ligonier Ministries for this information.

[6]Ibid.

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