At this time of the year (May 8) we have the Feast of the Ascension (just past), today’s gospel reading (John 17:20-26) and the Feast of Pentecost coming up next Sunday. So by virtue of the Ascension, all things have been placed under Christ, by this gospel reading all believers are unified in Christ, and by virtue of us anticipating Pentecost, we are praying to be empowered by the Holy Spirit (who is the same as Christ and God).
HUMAN DIVISION AND DISREGARD
To the contrary of that gospel vision of unity, however, we find ourselves embroiled and implicated in a world of continuing division, human misery, and conflict. Nations and politicians are adversarial. There is a growing mountain of laws, locks, alarms, security cameras, controls on travel, or other types of policing. Nevertheless, they do not bring peace and don’t solve the cause of the problem.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus prays for our unity: “That they may become completely one.”
Some Christians live opulently, while other Christians live in misery, and this is reflected on Sunday mornings around the world. Internally, Christian families sometimes reflect relationships that are badly divided, oppressive, or abusive.
In the face of all this, in our gospel reading today Jesus says, “That they may become completely one.”
Yet, in all places, there is the occasional love that heals, the outstanding groups or individuals who call us back from our divisions and violence. For example, almost all of us have known the empowering love of a mother, for which we express gratitude not only on Mother’s Day. It is a love which fosters in us a sense of security and self worth, and it draws us towards our markedly different siblings and members of the wider family.
Another example is that the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes people exemplify this spirit in whole communities, individuals who address or bridge social divisions. It is often in the name of God that they do so.
Another example of Christ-like healing and empowering love is in Louise Erdrich’s book titled LaRose: “When a 5-year-old boy is accidentally shot and killed during a North Dakota deer hunt in 1999, the family of the father who pulled the trigger decides to give their own son, named LaRose, to the grieving family. This is a tradition among the Ojibwe people – and LaRose is a novel that stays haunting to the end.” (This summary is by the publisher Harper Collins.)
UNITY WITH JESUS AND EACH OTHER
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus lays out his social program, which is quite simple: those who follow or emulate Christ are one. According to Jesus, Christians are closer to one another than citizens of a country and they are closer to one another than members of human families. For those who follow Christ are as much united with one another as God the Father and God the Son are united with one another. There is therefore no room for prejudice of any kind amongst those who follow Jesus. Rather, we should be actively engaged in overcoming social barriers. For Jesus, the Christian prostitute, priest, and president are a single united being; they are one united being with the pauper, artisan, and investment banker.
There is power in the gospel of Jesus to energize us to investigate social conditions, to understand, to build communication, to build bridges, to heal, and to work towards a better future. The power of his love is greater than any or all of our divisions.
Roy Campbell on an air trip (on approximately Friday 14 May 2010) was greatly impressed by two of his companions on the journey: A paraplegic and his sister, who has cared for him devotedly for thirty years. Such Christ-like loving care is always deeply striking and moving to see. The reading from Acts regarding Philippi (Acts 16:16-34) says that the jailer of Paul and Silas, gripped by fear of the earthquake there, intended to commit suicide: but even to a potential suicide, love can come and can heal, and, in time, bring a future that is good or better. Love heals. Actions which help those released from jail to build a new life are acts of Christ like love. Love that heals can be of many kinds – romantic, congregation, family, colleagues, friends, or a religious or other community.
This prison scene can remind us of how much we can help those that are released from prison, and are trying to find work and other kinds of support. I know a self-storage business owner who deliberately employed such persons. Assisting such individuals can further help society by building productive members of society, and reducing recidivism (or repeating crime and imprisonment).
We pray for all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit: In the name of Christ, we can love and care for groups of people – for prisoners, for the poor, for the sick, for the oppressed, near or far. Do we follow Jesus? If so, his love dwells in us. We are all bound together by the chains of his love. His people are inescapably drawn together as one.
As we seek ways to deepen and express our unity with others this week, praying for the empowerment of God’s Spirit, our gospel tells us that those around us will recognize the divinity of Christ; and we will see Christ’s glory.