Funeral Lectionary: John 17:1-3, 6-9a

Well over a decade ago, we began a series on readings for Christian funerals. Almost as long ago, we completed the passages assigned by the Roman Rite for Catholic funerals. But there are always new opportunities to encounter Jesus in the Scriptures for a message of hope and consolation.

As I meet new priests and ministers of consolation, I encounter Bible readings I hadn’t previously used for liturgy, prayer, or the places in between. One such passage is the beginning of the Lord’s prayer to the Father in John 17. The funeral lectionary offers the final three verses of that utterance as an official option. But not these:

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son,
so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that he may give eternal life
to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you,
the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

“I revealed your name
to those whom you gave me
out of the world.
They belonged to you,
and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me
is from you,

because the words you gave to me
I have given to them,
and they accepted them
and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.

Commentary:

At his final gathering before the Passion, Jesus expresses himself as a priest–a person who intercedes to the Father on behalf of his disciples. The author of the letter to the Hebrews emphasizes this (Cf. 4:15-16) and reminds us the Lord is not only a willing priest for us, but an effective and fruitful one. At the time of death, mourners can rely on that.

We also know that stressful times leave us bewildered. This is the setting of Jesus’ prayer. Thomas and Philip express it explicitly in John 14:5ff. Modern people dislike confusion. We seek surety, and often we will embrace lies if the truth isn’t forthcoming. The time of mourning is a time of disruption so this prayer speaks to today’s disciples in the same way Jesus intended for his own, and the evangelist intends for his late first century community.

Do we need details on the afterlife? No. Not for the matters that concern Christians. Jesus says we need know the Father, and the Son sent from above. Although Jesus’ departure is immanent, he reminds us we will not be left alone (Cf. John 14:18). We can gloss over those words or forget them. But we will not be abandoned. At the time of a funeral, we can be assured our beloved is cared for and we will be also.

We are God’s created handiwork. The New Testament says we are children of God now (Cf. 1 John 3:2, and this reading would make a good pairing with this Gospel) and God’s work of art (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) and there is a greater purpose beyond our dying and mourning.

The last line from verse 9a is succinct and trustworthy: I pray for them. Coming from Jesus’ lips, I think we can believe that.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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