VII Easter, Year A
When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. "
A very wise professor of mine once said, (or something like this) “You know how, when we get a bunch of church people together who haven’t been together before, we spend a lot of time at the beginning “building community?”
“Well, that’s a totally wrong-headed notion. We don’t build community. We can’t build community. God creates community. God created us in community, in communion with one another. We have only to recognize that communion, that community.”
This is what comes to mind when I hear Jesus ask, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Just prior to that, Jesus has said that eternal life is knowing God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom the Father sent.
Oneness, eternal life, all these are not produced by, but are the same as knowledge of Jesus’ “Holy Father.” Eternal life isn’t a reward for knowing the Father, it is knowing the Father. Oneness isn’t a result of knowing the Father and the Son, and their oneness, it is the knowing.
That is to say, knowing the true God, the Father of Jesus, the non-retaliatory, non-punitive Father whom Jesus glorified in his life and in his death on the cross, knowing this God is the end of human life, it’s teleological purpose. One who knows this Father “never dies” (Jn 11:26) and so is free to lay down her life rather than try to “save it.” One who knows the Father and the Son sees no division, knows the oneness of those whom the Father has given the Son, and does not need to build fences between people as though these perceived divisions had some ontological reality.
Christianity is presently in the midst of a great period of fence building. Persons on both sides of the idiopathic divide have drawn up boundaries and started heaving verbal grenades toward the other side. One side says, “You have gone too far! If you do not come back, you are no longer in communion with us!” The other says, “You have stayed too long in the same place. If you do not move forward with us, we will walk alone. You are no longer in communion with us!”
There is no knowledge of the Father in these statements, only a falling back into the familiar, comfortable “world” of the scapegoat. Only the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate in another week, is capable of prying these scales from our eyes, enabling us to see the unity we have, but to which our behavior gives the lie. Jesus prayer rings loud in our ears, “Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
There are no pressing issues this week.
The great temptation, here, of course, is to say, “All those who don’t agree with us, who don’t see the unity that we have in the Father, are not with us!” To be faithful to the Gospel, we seek to avoid that error at any cost.
Rather, we can simply speak of the Goodness of a God who has made all things as parts of One, whose eye sees and loves us all, but as members of one body, not as divided individuals. We speak not of accomplishing re-union, but of seeing past the false divisions to a pre-existent union.
Our arguments will not cease, our differences of heart and mind will not go away all at once, but if we allow ourselves, and lead our congregations to look over the crest of the hill into the promised land, they, and we, will see a land rich with milk and honey, a safe place within which to argue and debate, a place protected by the love of the Father, a love that binds us to one another despite our petty hatreds.
A friend of mine taught me to address these difficulties in a new way. I used to want to say, "But that isn’t Christian." This just suggests another division. He taught me to say, "But that isn’t Jesus."