Over thirteen weeks ago we rubbed ashes on our faces and off we were into Lent. Before we could turn around we were at the sink cleaning up Last Supper dishes, went to Gethsemane, stood at the cross, and days later, scratched our heads with Mary, Peter and John at an empty tomb, while we raised the strain “of triumphant gladness.” Today we retrace our steps. We’re back at the Last Supper. Whoever put the lectionary readings together thinks the upper room is essential, or is trying to slip one by us. Looking ahead, Easter ends next Sunday – Pentecost. And in the present, today we honor our mothers and important women in our lives. We pile a lot of luggage on this Seventh Sunday of Easter.
Jesus ends an evening of dining and teaching with a prayer, spoken so the disciples can hear him, as well as us. Jews and Gentiles alike will come to believe Jesus’ his disciples because they will tell the story. It’s going to take us being one for the world to believe him, though – a big one, one in the same love the Father has for the Son, the Son and Father for us, and in relationship with them. Being in such a state of love, the world will see and want to be so loved, as well. It’s easy – just love – right? Jesus and God are one, we are completely one with them, the world will see and get it. What does that make us – special – no, we’re missionaries to declare and live love. But for some reason, the world’s not beating down our doors.
I recently started reading a book, How the West Really Lost God. Mary Eberstadt researched and writes her conclusions about the loss of Christianity in the western world. We see people create a personal spirituality without the trappings of religion or church, and God of the church is no longer needed. We hear that church attendance is down. Mainline and conservative denominations are hemorrhaging members. Denominational wars, church splits, and backbiting get more media coverage than how we love one another. Jesus’ prayer goes unanswered. Are we impeding Jesus?
What is this oneness Jesus prays for? I am not sure. I am sure the world doesn’t quite understand church intramural warfare – how fractured Jesus’ followers are in their eyes. Sometimes people must think our mission is to be right, rather than follow Jesus. Yet we still believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, as if saying it makes it so. Do you ever cross your fingers when you say that? We are far from one. And Jesus believes people believe based on what they see of his love in us. I fear he may be right – and it’s always real attractive.
Jesus yearns that we be completely one. If we think Jesus means we should all get along, agree on everything, believe the same way, worship alike, keep the church pure, then we miss the point. Church divisions happen because people tenaciously believe they are right and someone else is wrong. We fight about what to believe, rather than follow the one we are to believe in. Church folk carry on like this, forgetting God’s reputation is at stake. God’s will is for us to live in the love the Father and Son share. That’s our oneness – God’s love poured into us. That love makes the holy catholic and apostolic church one. We are a people so wrapped in a sea of love that we are becoming one voice, one body to bear witness of God’s love reaching for those who still need to know and trust. We don’t even have to like each other, or agree – just love one another as God loves all.
In doing research in past months for the 1789 Prayer Book worship, I ran across a church history scholar who was drummed out of his denomination. From what I can tell he dared to say that our oneness is God’s gift, not in holding beliefs, doctrines, and Biblical interpretations alike. He dared write, teach and wouldn’t recant that trusting Jesus’ and God’s love is enough for our healing and salvation. Once in a denomination battle I asked someone who didn’t hold my positions if we came across someone who’d fallen in a ditch, could we work together to pull them out. His response: “If you don’t believe what I do, NO!” I think I would have been wrong to let him know my next thought. It was about him, I’m sad to say.
God’s glory is revealed in Jesus’– caring, mercy, reaching out to welcome all, forgive, restore, heal, and offer God’s love to any who seek him. God’s glory at the cross and empty tomb – evidence that love’s power is greater than the forces of violence, revenge or death. Fred Craddock says: “The church in every generation, in every place, and in every circumstance that embraces this word in faith will abide in peace, in joy, and in full confidence that the world will finally be drawn to God.” Until that time arrives, my friends, we are missionaries to love this world with the love God and Jesus share, love they share with you, me and those who can see His love, in ours.