He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25
Michael Ramsey was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, reigning from 1961-1974. In 1979 he wrote a fantastic little book called The Christian Priest Today in which he has a number of short chapters about various aspects of the priesthood. Many of these chapters were addresses or homilies said to a group of seminarians. Chapter 3 is called Man of Prayer, and is a marvelous reflection on the prayer life of the priest. Although it is written especially for, to, and about priests, the insights about prayer are valuable for any Christian seeking growth in closeness with God. Each of these fifteen posts (which I will endeavor to maintain as a weekly series on Thursdays) is a reflection on one paragraph from the late Archbishop’s chapter, Man of God, from his book The Christian Priest Today.
How did he teach them? He gave them the Our Father as the model prayer, and many parables about prayer. He taught them by those instructions. But is it not probable that they learned most of all not from what he said to them but from their daily proximity to him, the Son of Man whose prayer day by day was perfect? We can faintly imagine what it must have been like to be trying to pray while living constantly in near intercourse to one whose prayer was perfect, one in whom was the perfect response to the Father in praise, self-offering, intercession, and all that prayer means. The strength of his prayer would flow into theirs like the “virtue” flowing from him to the woman who touched the border of his robe. The disciples thus prayed with Jesus, near Jesus; and what a difference that made! It may help us if we recall the occasions of the prayers of Jesus recorded by the evangelists, no doubt as typical occasions. Meditate sometimes on the prayers of Jesus. Simon Peter finds Jesus a great while before day praying in a desert place. Jesus prays through the night before the appointment of the twelve. Jesus prays on the mountain where he was transfigured. He rejoices in the Holy Spirit, giving thanks for the reception of his message. He prays in the garden of Gethsemane. He prays during the hours on Calvary. And perhaps the prayer at the Supper in the seventeenth chapter of St John is a kind of summary of the inner meaning of all his prayer: he gives glory to the Father.
Ah, Scripture, the best place to start, is it not? Exploring the teachings and prayers of Jesus in all the occasions listed here could fill an entire book of its own!
Let’s start with reflecting on Jesus himself. Archbishop Ramsey describes Jesus as “the Son of Man whose prayer day by day was perfect.” Jesus’ prayers were “the perfect response to the Father.” So although his teachings about prayer must have been marvelous for the spiritual growth of his disciples (as they are for us today), his example must have been just as profound for them. I know I appreciate learning things alongside people who know what they’re doing. It can be intimidating at times, but it’s also inspiring to see one’s own goal or destination demonstrated by another person.
In that sense, the disciples have an advantage over us; they got be with Jesus for long periods of time over the course of three years. We “only” have what a few of them wrote down in the Gospel books. But then again, if they who walked with him all that time learned anything from Jesus’ prayer life, they would also know what to write down for future generations to get a proper summary of the experience and content of Jesus’ prayer life. As Ramsey himself wrote here, it’s well worth our while to meditate on Jesus’ prayers in the Bible, especially the one in John 17, as it is through the word of God that we can truly draw near to (and learn from) the Word of God.