Kept in thy name

A Sister of the Community of the Holy Cross Rempstone

Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given I me, that they may be one, even as we are one’ [John 17.11, RSV].

We can scarcely pride ourselves on being one in our Fathers house. Some are even reluctant to call God Father at all. A first step then towards unity, harmony and peace is to recognize who our God actually is. He is whom he has revealed himself to be. Our text from St John shows us that our unity can only be restored to us in and by the Father. As an old Compline hymn puts it, ‘O Father bring us back again, Who on this day have strayed from you.’

There has been much disputing as to whether we shouldn’t call God Mother rather than Father. But God is patient, showing the gentle tenderness of a long-suffering mother in the process. It is in the Fathers name, nevertheless, that we have to be kept. Has our Lords Prayer been heard? Have we been kept by the Father, safe in his name, in his being, in his totality? Since we are at sixes and sevens with each other, it somehow looks as though things have gone awry. Yes indeed, though not from Gods side, but from ours. We have wandered away in many directions and lost not only one another but something of God too. It was for this very reason that Jesus needed to ask his Father, just before his Passion, to hold us together afterwards.

But what else can we glean from the text? There is a conundrum for a start. It is not entirely clear what Jesus is saying. What or who is it that he claims the Father has actually given to him? The Scripture versions differ here because of the original ambiguity. The Jerusalem Bible takes it to mean that the Father has entrusted the apostles, and other believers by inference, into the Sons hands: ‘Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name.’

Our version, however, suggests that the Father has entrusted his own very name to his Son, and hence, through him to all faithful believers: ‘Keep them in thy name which thou hast given me.’

Ultimately, there is no discrepancy. Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, Word and Image of the Father, is as the Father is, save that he is begotten. He has the Fathers name – all, as it were, that makes the Father God – and this he imparts to his followers, who are God’s gift to him. Earlier in John, Jesus says, ‘No one can come to me, except it is granted him by the Father’ [John 6.65].

Thus, the Father gives’ believers to the Son, and equally gives’ all that he himself is to the Son, and hence to us who believe. Unaccountably, we all share in the mystery of the divine Fatherhood. Likewise, as members of the Church, the Bride of Christ, it is ours to be feminine and motherly also. Of all this, our human experience of masculinity and femininity is but a pale reflection. Sadly, we are in competition across the sexual divide, blurring the edges in wrong ways. Part of the way back is to reclaim God as our Father and the Church as Mother, so that we may one day find ourselves made truly one in the Father’s name, as Jesus prayed.