The Seventh Sunday of Easter; Year C (5/12/2013)
Lessons:Acts 16:16-34 Psalm 97 (12) Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 St. John 17:20-26
Prayer of the Day: O God, form the minds of your faithful people into your one will. Make us love what you command and desire what you promise, that, amid all the changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
17:20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
St. John 17:20-26 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
As We Are One
We experience it now and then. I’m thinking about New York Yankee fans singing “Sweet Caroline” in Yankee Stadium. I’m thinking about members of congress singing “God Bless America” (together!) on the steps of the capital in 2011. I’m thinking about Bronco fans pouring out into the street after Elway & Co. defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the ‘99 Superbowl. I’m thinking about sailors in Times Square at the end of World War II. I’m thinking about Democrats celebrating in November of 2012, or Republicans in November of 2004.
The interesting thing, though, is that this kind of unity is only experienced as over and against someone else. Yankee and Red Sox fans (and both sides of the aisle in congress) against those who would harm this nation. Bronco fans against Falcon fans. The Allied Forces against the Axis Nations. Democrats against Republicans. As the old saw goes, “Nothing unites us more than a common enemy.”
That’s not what Jesus is describing in this week’s Gospel lesson, though.
Jesus is praying, during his last supper, for his followers. He prays that as God is in him, he might be in them, “so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus is not praying that his followers will have a common enemy which causes them to be closer to one another. Jesus is praying that they will have a unity that is grounded in his presence in their lives; a unity that will create a bond between them that is greater than anything that distinguishes them from one another. As the Apostle Paul will later write, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3::28)
It calls to mind Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s experience in the Confessing Church — one of the few groups of Germans willing to speak out publicly against Adolph Hitler and the Nazis at the onset of World War II. Bonhoeffer helped to organize and lead an underground seminary for training Confessing Church pastors in Finkenwalde. One of their community rules was that nobody was allowed to speak about anyone else, unless that person was present. They knew that they were in great danger; that they had to be as strong as possible; and that speaking carelessly about each other could cause the community to come apart from the inside. So they took strong measures to protect the unity they had with one another; the unity that they knew as brothers in Christ.
The Confessing Church is an inspiring example of Christian unity. Sadly, there are countless other examples of Christian disunity. In fact, there seems to be more disunity than unity among Christ’s followers these days. So his words come as a challenge to us today. We can celebrate our uniqueness, and be grateful for our heritage, but at the same time we must never lose sight of the fact that all of us, Jew and Greek; slave and free; male and female; Republican and Democrat; old and young; rich and poor; educated and uneducated; healthy and ill; are made one in Christ — and that unity is greater than anything that distinguishes us.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- Why has Jesus so concerned, causing him to pray for his followers to remain united?
- What pressures will they face, which might cause them to be divided?
- Were the hopes of Jesus realized in the life of the early church?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What threatens the unity we share as Christians today?
- What might we do to better demonstrate the unity we have with all Christians?
- How might the world perceive us differently, if our unity was more apparent?