I cannot begin to imagine how complicated my parents’ lives were when all eight of us children were still living at home. Between farm chores, house work and feeding/clothing/educating all of us, there would have been no time to talk, to even finish a sentence. But I came to learn that they did talk to each other—late at night, after all of us were (ostensibly) in bed.
I remember a night when I was in grade school, unable to sleep. I wandered downstairs, assuming the house would be dark and quiet. But as my foot touched the last stair, I heard voices and saw a faint light from the kitchen. What could it be? No one would have been awake at that hour. Burglars! Someone had broken into the house and was quietly plotting against us!
Creeping quietly on stocking feet, searching the darkness for a weapon, I paused near the kitchen door. I recognized those voices! I smelled Lipton tea! Was that the sound of spoons on ice cream bowls? These were not murderers, but my parents, enjoying quiet, adult conversation without the usual audience. (And it probably wasn’t as late at night as it seemed to me.)
I don’t know how long I eavesdropped on them or what they were talking about, but I remember having the good sense not to interrupt them. I crept back to bed, a little confused about why they would stay up late to talk, and a little relieved that we had been spared harm.
Now, as an adult, I know exactly what they were doing. I know that those late night conversations, after the house has gone to bed, are when adults talk about what’s really on their minds. All the things children are not supposed to know.
I thought of my parents’ kitchen table conversations as I studied Sunday’s gospel reading. (John 17.1-11) In a scene recorded only in John’s gospel, Jesus talks to his Father—at night, in the dark, as honestly as if no one is listening. Though the disciples are. And so are we. We learn what was really on Jesus’ mind on the night before he was crucified.
We overhear only the first part of this much longer conversation on Sunday—11 confusing verses about time and eternity, danger and truth, absence and presence, God’s world and ours. This section of John is most often called “the farewell discourse,” but it could as easily be dubbed “John’s greatest hits”—all the themes of Jesus’ ministry are smashed into one chapter. And buried in this theologically dense late night discussion are two “asks.”
“Glorify me, so that you (Father) may be glorified.”
“Protect them, so that they may be one.”
On the eve of destruction, this is what is on Jesus’ mind? God’s glory? Our safety?
And did Jesus know, centuries ago, that he would be praying those same prayers, making those same asks even now, for our sake?
The current crisis has shortened our horizons. We see no further than the next news cycle, the next trip out of the house, the next night’s fitful sleep. Jesus prays that our horizons be longer, broader, brighter.
Jesus prays that even when we are afraid, we trust God’s power. Jesus prays that even when we are confused, we trust God’s wisdom. Jesus prays that even when tomorrow seems bleak, we trust God’s future. Jesus prays that even when we are divided along political, cultural, theological lines, we trust God to unite us.
How comforting to know that, after we have gone to bed at night, Jesus stays up late. Like a good parent. Like a trusted friend. Jesus stays up late to pray. For us. Because Jesus knows things that we, his children, cannot understand or should not know.
Perhaps next time you have a sleepless night, wandering around the dark house in stocking feet, you might pause to listen, to seek that faint light. Perhaps you will hear Jesus staying up late, praying. For you. Sleep well.
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post