Do you remember what it felt like to leave home for the first time?
For some of us, it was a long, long time ago.
For others, maybe not so long ago.
For a few, not yet…
But there is a mix of emotions, isn’t there?
Everything from excitement to what lays ahead in the future to trepidation for that very same reason;
and from happiness of being out on your own to hesitation because you’re moving away from your loved ones.
I grew up in a small town in upstate New York that was built around two dying industries: Steel mills and an Air Force base.
By the time I graduated high school, they both had all but shut own.
There was nothing left for me there, and I decided to go to college instead of the mill or the military, like most of my family did.
My mom was a bit protective of me.
Today, we call them helicopter parents — always hovering…
I’m no different with my own boys…
And so when I went out on my own, she rehashed volumes of lessons she had instructed me on since the day I was born.
Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t walk alone after dark. Call me everyday…
I exaggerate, but you get the idea.
Still, even til this day, I hear my mother’s wise words.
I heard them in downtown Harrisburg a few years back, when I decided to find a place where all the homeless folks congregated, and began playing my guitar and singing for tips that I would give them at the end of the night.
“Don’t talk to strangers.”
I heard them on the Indian Reservation in South Dakota when I drifted out into the neighborhood we were forbidden to go, and I did it alone, so I could meet the real people there and understand the problems they faced.
“Don’t walk alone after dark.”
And every time I pick up the phone to call her and tell her that everything is still alright…
Many of us can relate.
And whether our moms or dads or whatever family member or friend filled this motherly role in our lives are still with us, their voices and their lessons always remain, don’t they?
It’s Mother’s Day, yes, and we’re celebrating mothers today.
And the comparison has been made on many occasion about God’s motherly love as well as Jesus’s.
While mothering is predominantly a feminine characteristic, even men can be “mothering.”
I know I sure am with my own boys, and I hope I am too with my congregation.
And mothering also is reserved for those who have borne children.
Yet so many are “mothers” to children and adults who aren’t even their own.
When I read this passage that we read today, John 17.6-19, I can’t help but think of Jesus’s motherly love for his disciples.
There are many examples of this kind of love of Jesus’s for his disciples and us throughout the Gospels, but this one?
This one is the quintessential example.
So today, I’d like us to think about what it means have a mother’s love for one another.
We are in the seventh Sunday in Easter — seven weeks since Jesus rose from the dead.
Since then, Jesus has been appearing to his disciples — and some 500 other people, the Gospels tell us — and building his church.
He’s been rehashing all those lessons that he’s told the disciples while he was still alive.
* “Love others as I have first loved you.” John 13.34.
* “Keep the commandments.” John 14.15
* “Spread the good news…” Mark 16.15
* Call me every day….
* Well, “remain in me,” anyway…. John 15.4
And today, we remember and celebrate his ascension.
That is the day that he left this world to be with the Father so that he could give us the Holy Spirit, which comes at Pentecost.
We’ll talk about that and celebrate that all next Sunday…
And so we read in Luke 24 that after all those appearances and all that rehashing of lessons, Jesus walks with the disciples out to Bethany.
And it’s there he lifts up his hands and blesses them.
And while he’s blessing them, he’s carried up into heaven, right before their eyes.
And they did what he said.
They worshipped him, then remained in him, and they spread the good news to all the world.
But back in our reading in John today, we can see that before all this happened, what the mother’s heart of Jesus was consumed with.
It’s a bittersweet prayer for a bittersweet moment.
Jesus knows he has to leave his children and go to the Father.
He has to let his children strike out on their own.
I think this is what it must feel to be a parent on the night before your child goes to bed, knowing that in the morning, you’ll drive them to the university, or to the bus stop, or help them move into their own apartment, or send them off at the airport.
How many times before that last goodbye can you tell them “I love you.”
As if each time you tell them this — I love you — that maybe, just maybe it will prolong the inevitable,
or at the very least, they will remember your voice and feel your everlasting love for them.
“Look up at the moon tonight,” I can almost hear Jesus tell his children. “When you look up at it, no matter where you are, I’ll be looking at the same moon and thinking about you.”
It’s a mother’s heart.
And now in that time when the children are asleep, Jesus moves to a quiet place and with this restless heart, he prays.
Isn’t that what we do, too, when we’re in these situations?
In the quiet and dark of the house on the night before, we can’t — or we don’t want to — sleep.
We don’t want to lose those precious last moments.
We cling to them.
And we pray.
We pray that it’s going to be all right.
Our children will be safe beneath the wings of God.
Protected and cared for.
Guided in God’s providence.
So this is where Jesus is, praying through the night for his children, his disciples…
“You gave them to me,” he says. “They know everything.”
It’s as if Jesus is convincing himself that he’s done everything he could to teach them.
They are ready for this…
They know that Jesus came from the Father, and that the Father and Jesus are one.
They are ready for this…
Verse 11: “And now I am no longer on the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”
“Holy Father, protect them in your name…”
“I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”
Do you hear this plea to the Father?
Can you feel this gnawing, aching and raw love in Jesus’s heart for his children?
“…I am asking that you protect them from the evil one,” he says again in verse 15.
It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?
Yet this is the epitome of a mother’s love for her children.
We talk often of the love story that our relationship with God is, and how it is written not only in the Gospels, but all of scripture, both new and old testaments.
Jesus knows that the disciples are ready to continue his ministry.
Almost: They still need God’s Spirit dwelling inside of them, and that’s coming.
But Jesus knows they will do that task.
But like a mother parting from her own children, Jesus also knows what they will face.
He says in Verse 14, “…the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world.”
He also knows that all but one of the disciples will face the same death Jesus will — a violent execution.
And that execution will come because of their family name in Christ.
It’s bittersweet, and Jesus’s prayer certainly is pleading to the Father that God be with them and help them and protect them always.
My heart hurts for Jesus here.
There are so many verses in which we see Jesus’s pure humanity.
But this one stings…
So many of us Christians fail to see Jesus in this humanity.
And we must! We must!
Because when we are told that Jesus came to be born as a human baby, he was all human.
Not some demi-God.
He suffered just like we would not only on the cross,
but he suffered the very emotions that we do here in life in our own humanity.
It’s why God chose to come here and be human.
So that God would know what that suffering — even this heartache — would feel like.
And understand what it feels like for us to kiss our own babies goodnight and stay up til all hours of the night suffering through tears in prayer.
“I brought you into this world,” God might say. “I know firsthand the pain that you face.”
“I know you’re heart. I have your heart. I suffer with you”
Jesus’s love for you
Certainly, this is a hard scene, but it’s a sweet one, too.
Because know this:
Jesus’s love for his disciples is no different than the love he has for each of us.
That very same motherly love.
You don’t have to be a female and bear a child to have experienced it.
And you don’t even have to have a loving mother to have experienced it.
Because it’s all around us.
And when you choose to follow Jesus and commit your life to him, you are included in that very special relationship.
You are loved endlessly, doted over unnecessarily, forgiven unconditionally, and cared for deeply.
This motherly heart of Jesus wants nothing more from us than to remember all those lessons, keep that fire of love burning, go out and do something amazing in this family name, and always, always, always remain in Christ.
Remain in Christ’s love.
Return to Christ.
This love story is that of a glorious reunion.
We can experience it here today, and tomorrow, and any time we come together in Christ because Christ is in us.
That is kingdom now.
And we will experience this perfect love when one day, our time here on earth is over and we are called back home to Jesus.
The promise asked for in Jesus’s prayer — bring them home to me safely at the end of the day — is the promise given and honored in our own lifetimes and in all of eternity.
It is Love Everlasting.
Let us pray:
Holy, Tender and Mothering God:
You truly are both Mother and Father to us in this world.
The love of your Son Jesus makes known this love everlasting.
And so we thank you for this amazing gift
and for always protecting and providing for us,
and always being our providence in this world.
We thank you for doting over us, teaching us, and letting us go out into the world, yet always staying right by our side through the power of your Spirit, with your strong and sure hand, and the great love in your heart.
Forgive us when we fail to see that love,
and forgive us when we don’t love others the same motherly way you love us.
Help us all to be better fathers and better mothers,
and help us live into the name and love of your son,
in whose endlessly loving name we pray, Amen.