That We All May Be One

Posted on Posted in Teri's Blog

 

The Rev. Teri Daily

 

beautiful-swirlOn the night before Jesus is crucified, the gospel of John tells us that Jesus prayed to God the Father that his followers may be one, as he and the Father are one: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 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” (John 17:22-23).

Jesus knew human nature well; he knew that “being one” is much more easily said than done.  After all, from almost the moment Jesus called the first disciples, his followers have failed to live into such unity.  We have argued over who would sit on his right hand and his left hand in the kingdom to come, over transubstantiation and consubstantiation and mere symbolism, over baptism by full immersion and baptism by sprinkling, over whether to kneel or stand at communion, over the presence or absence of religious art in the worship space, over whether to worship in Latin or the “language of the people” … and the list goes on and on.   We have split ourselves into various communions, churches, and congregations as if we were bacteria splitting ourselves endlessly in half.

And yet we are and always have been ONE, for our unity is not an achievement on our part but a gift given to us in Christ.  If you and I are both joined to Christ in his humanity, then we are one.  If the same Holy Spirit working in me works also in you, then we are one.  If God is a Trinity (three yet one), then to be true to the nature of God we must be many yet one.  This is why unity is one of the four marks of the Church, why we say each week in the Nicene Creed that we “believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

The doctrine of Christian unity is central to our Anglican identity.  As Anglicans, we gather for Eucharist each week, and we acknowledge that our unity rests not in a conformity of beliefs but in the Body and Blood of Christ, in who Christ is and what Christ has done for and in us.  One of the most prominent theologians in the history of the Episcopal Church, William Porcher DuBose (1836-1918), argued that it is precisely because unity is essential to the nature of the Church that the Church must stretch its boundaries:

…unity is so essential and so necessary a thing in Christianity that it must not be sacrificed to the demands of an impossible uniformity; that the limits of uniformity must be stretched to their utmost in the interest of even the lowest practicable unity.  Why, so far as my own willingness goes, shall I not be visibly as well as invisibly in the one body of Christ with every devout Catholic and every devout Protestant; and with not only every devout Christian, but every one who calls himself Christian? [1]

This month the Church celebrates the Octave of Christian Unity, also known in ecumenical circles as The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  This week extends from January 18th through the 25th, encompassing eight days (hence, an octave).  These days are not chosen randomly.  January 18th is the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, a day when we remember Peter’s exclamation to Jesus “You are the Messiah!” and Jesus’ response that Peter will be the rock upon whom he will build the Church.  January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, a day when we remember Paul’s dramatic conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus.

These two saints in the Church were anything but carbon copies of one another.  Peter, the disciple who literally followed Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry, with him in the flesh day in and day out; Paul, a “Johnny-come-lately” to the way of Jesus, persecuting early Christians until that one dramatic encounter with Christ while traveling to Damascus.  Peter, who seemed tied to traditional ways; Paul, who fought for the inclusion of Gentiles without requiring either circumcision or adherence to Jewish food laws.  Peter, the “establishment” candidate; Paul, the independent who boasted of receiving the gospel directly from Christ and not through the earlier apostles.  If the early Church could make room for both Peter and Paul, can’t we find a place in our vision of the Body of Christ for the diversity that exists in our own time and place?

This month we focus on what binds us instead of what divides us.  What might it look like for us to live outwardly the unity of the Church that exists within Christ?

 

 

[1] DuBose, Turning Points in My Life (New York: Longman’s, 1912) 126-127.”

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