Uniform 01.11.2015: A Grandmother’s Voice

John 17:6-21

As I read these words of Jesus this week, I am grieving the loss of my grandmother, who died just after Christmas. My mind is running a constant feed of the time my family and I spent saying goodbye. I hear the kind thoughts shared by Granny’s friends and rarely seen relatives at her visitation. The tune and lyrics to the hymns played at her funeral make comforting background music as I return to my regular activities. And the words of her eulogy help me to remember parts of her life and character I’d never fully considered.

But one sound that is notably absent from my mental white noise is Pallie Cooper’s voice. Granny spent the last eight years in a nursing home, where she slowly lost her memory and retreated into a world no one else could see. Each time I visited during the last two years, she rarely opened her eyes and didn’t speak at all. As I remember stories from my time with her, I’m saddened to realize that I don’t remember the sound of her voice, and I’m wishing that I had some words spoken just to me that I could hold on to.

Jesus’ disciples did not experience this particular grief in the days following Jesus’ death. They spent so much time listening to their teacher that they knew how he felt about them and what he hoped they would do with their lives. His voice was intimately familiar. Through his prayer for them, the disciples learned that Jesus viewed them as gifts from God, that he hoped they would continue his mission after his death, and that he trusted God to give them the tools and protection they needed to carry out that mission. What a blessing those words must have been to Jesus’ friends as they navigated life without him.

Before a person we love dies, we do not often get to hear his or her prayers for us. But there are other ways for us to discern what our loved ones felt was important for us. I’m spending this mourning period searching Granny’s life for guidance about how I might model my life after the best part of hers. I picture her preparing communion for Sunday worship, and I hear her reminding me to devote time to my church, both to its people and its mission. I remember that she cared for her mother and her in-laws as they aged, and I hear her saying that the elderly among us matter and instructing me to care for the people in my life who need help. I see my family sitting down to holiday meals she had lovingly and skillfully prepared, and I hear her telling me that good food is nothing without good people to eat it with. I feel the warmth of her living room, full of people sharing stories, and I hear her teaching me that the bonds of family are deeply important—strong enough to withstand any number of challenges, especially time and distance.

I never heard Granny’s prayer for me spoken, and she didn’t write it down for later generations to read, but through the song of her life I hear her voice. And as Jesus hoped for his disciples, I pray that she will be able to speak through me for years to come.


1. Have you ever lost a loved one without knowing his or her final thoughts or hopes? What was that experience like?
2. What would it mean to you to hear a person you love pray for you as Jesus prayed for the disciples?
3. How do you pray for the people you love most? What do you ask for them? How do you thank God for them?
4. How can we let the people closest to us know how much they mean to us and what we hope for them? How can we make sure that our loved ones remember our voices after we’re gone?

Reference Shelf

In an earlier study on prayer, I showed that chap. 17 breaks naturally into seven petitions all except one of which follow the Johannine formula of invoking the Father (pavter). This formula is also present in other prayers in the Gospel (cf. 11:41; 12:27, 28). Also similar is that each of the petitions, no matter what the context, deals with some aspect of Jesus’ mission. Although the invocation Father is used only six times (vv. 1, 5, 11, 21, 24, and 25), there are actually seven petitions because of the interconnection of the prayers. Taken as a whole the chapter is a magnificent summary not only of the farewell cycle but of the entire Gospel.


17:4-8. The second petition. The emphasis on finishing the work and “the glory before the world began” (author trans.) is a clear reminiscence of the “Word” who was “at the beginning” intimately related to God (1:1) and was the “only” Son who came to make God known (1:14, 18). The petition in 17:5 for the restoration of glory (cf. 1:14) is striking. Also striking is the fact that 17:7-8 concerning the disciples’ receiving, knowing, and believing Jesus and his words echoes the key verses of the prologue (1:10-12) as well as the major emphasis of the Cana cycle–seen in the disciples at Cana (2:11), the crucial perspective on believing after the Temple incident (2:23-25), Nicodemus (3:12), the Samaritans (4:42), and the official (4:48-49).

17:9-19. The third and fourth petitions. I am asking or “I pray” (v. 9) begins a new emphasis on the situation of the disciples in a hostile world. The strong invocation Holy Father (v. 11) together with the repeated request for protection (vv. 11-15) in the name of God appears to be an allusion to the OT idea of power in the name of God and to the idea that God’s name must never be spoken irreverently (e.g., Exod 20:7). The perceived hostility in these verses echoes the repeated hostility to Jesus in the festival cycle with the paralytic (5:18), the bread of life (6:41 and 70), the statement on truth (8:41-48), the blind man (9:24), the good shepherd (10:31-33), and Lazarus (11:45-50). Evil or the evil one is real (v. 15) and the disciples need the protection of God to survive.

The fourth petition, which does not include the invocation “Father,” is a prayer for holiness or sanctification (v. 17) that picks up the holiness idea in the earlier invocation (v. 11). The use of holiness terminology is exceedingly rare in this Gospel and the only other use is in the good shepherd mashal (10:36; it is also used in 1 John 2:20 in a conflict situation). The purpose of the disciples on mission here (v. 18) is similar to that at 10:36.


Gerald L. Borchert, “John” in Mercer Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Watson E. Mills et al (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 2003) 1074.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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