“That they may be one”
Sunday 2 June 2019
I am sure that the Gospel text that we heard this morning is reasonably familiar to most of you.
This part of John’s gospel is nearly always used with an ecumenical application. At ecumenical gatherings and joint worship between Christian Churches, it is very common for Jesus’ prayer “that they all may be one” to be invoked.
However, our familiarity with it in this ecumenical context can blind us to any other insight from the text.
Consider the fact, for example, that there was no ecumenical movement in the time of Jesus. There was only one clearly identifiable group of followers. That is a statement of the obvious. So, in its original form, this text clearly did not relate to an ecumenical aspiration. It applied purely and simply to the disciples of Jesus and those who would become disciples.
In other words, it can equally be applied to any individual Christian community as it can to the ecumenical activities between Christian communities. Jesus’ prayer: “that they all may be one” applies to us as members of the Anglican community of the parish of Holland Park.
If it applies to us, what might we learn from this text to assist us in living as a faithful community of Christians?
Firstly, let’s look at the kind of unity that Jesus wants for us in his prayer. Listen closely to what Jesus says.
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”
“so that they may be one, as we are one.”
“so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Can you hear the intimacy of the unity that Jesus craves. Jesus is praying that we be part of the very unity of God. This is not some surface level relationship. The unity that Jesus prays for for us is the very same unity and intimacy of his relationship with the Father.
As I reflected upon this thought this week, I really struggled to think how I could make this enormous generosity of Jesus’ wish for us real for you and me as I speak this morning. In fact, I did not really find a way. All I can do is repeat the statement and let it impact upon each of you as it will. The unity that Jesus wants us to have with each other as his followers is the same unity that Jesus enjoys with the Father. In that unity we are all invited to share.
And the text makes it clear that this unity is God’s gift to give to us. If it were not, why would Jesus pray to the Father for it to become a reality? And if it is Jesus’ prayer, then surely it has every likelihood of being granted.
The unity of Father and Son is available to us as very gift from God if we but open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit within our hearts. This is an astounding thought to contemplate.
But there is also another very important aspect to Jesus’ desire that we be one.
“that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
This is Jesus’ recipe for evangelisation. How will the world know that Jesus was indeed sent by the Father and that the Father loves us even as he loves Jesus? By the unity that we have as disciples of Jesus.
So far from only being just a text for ecumenical reflection, today’s gospel reveals to us the extraordinary gift of unity that the Father bestows on us at the prayer of Jesus so that our very existence of a body united in God will be the cause of evangelisation of the world.
We have so much to be grateful for. And that gratitude is exactly what we express this morning through our celebration of the Eucharist. That is after all what Eucharist means – thanksgiving.
We gather around the table of the Lord, united in the love of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and each other, and express our thanksgiving to God who is the source of our unity through sharing the meal of bread and wine left for us by Jesus as a memorial of his life, death and resurrection.
As I lead this community in worship this morning, I will invite you to share a greeting of peace with each other by reminding you that: “We are the body of Christ”. As I lead you in the Thanksgiving Prayer this morning, I will pray: “Renew us by your Holy Spirit, unite us in the body of your Son, and bring us with all your people into the joy of your eternal kingdom.”
In one of the most symbolic actions in the liturgy, I will break bread and say: “We break this bread to share in the body of Christ. We who are many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.” I will then invite you forward to eat and drink of the Lord’s table to express the unity we already share and for nourishment to grow closer in love in the future.
Please take some time during this coming week to reflect at length on this most beautiful text form the scriptures: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may 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 sent me.”
Father Allan Paulsen