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 all 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 have sent me. 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. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
In today’s scripture passage we continue in John’s story of the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. It is still the night of the last supper, and Jesus is praying the final prayer that he prays before the start of the passion. This prayer has become known as the “unity prayer” because in it, Jesus talks about his hope that his followers will find a way to be one, even as he and the Father are one. Jesus prays not only for his current disciples but for all who will come to believe because of them, which means that in this prayer, on the night before he died on the cross, Jesus was praying specifically for us - that we might be one as followers of Christ. Well, some two thousand years later, how do we think that call for unity is working out?
One of my favorite church-related cartoons ever has to do with this subject. The drawing shows a teacher standing in front of a blackboard labeled “Churches & Christian Movements Throughout History.” It starts in 1AD with a single line and then branches off in multiple directions that take over the whole board. The teacher has circled one little branch at the very end, and is saying, “So this is where our movement came along and finally got the Bible right.” And a youngster in the class is saying, “Jesus is so lucky to have us.”
Sometimes we think that way about ourselves right? We finally have the Bible right, have following Jesus right, while all those other people before had it wrong, and all those other people outside of us are still wrong. In The Message interpretation of this passage (which puts scripture into more modern language) Jesus says this: “The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind - just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us.” What a lofty goal, Jesus!
So how do we seek this unity which Christ wants for us? How do we begin to heal the deep divisions and cross the great divides we have put and continue to put between ourselves? I think part of the answer also comes from this night before Jesus died, from the last supper, from the practice we now know as communion. The idea of unity, of union, is right there in the name. In the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup, we find ourselves not only one with Christ but one with each other. Every denomination, every iteration on this earth of how to follow Jesus has retained this practice of communion. Granted, many of us view it very differently. There really could not be more disunity in how we view this unifying act of communion. And yet, we still celebrate. We find that food, especially food given in the name of Christ, has the power to cross barriers, tear down boundaries, surpass cultural and language differences and unify people in a way that glorifies God.
I don’t have any real answers for the disunity we face in the church; sometimes the conflict is too big to stay together - history has taught us that. But I do know this - Jesus is with us in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. In this act, we join in union with Christ and with each other, and with Christians all around the world. In this, we are reminded that Jesus is with us no matter what and that God is always capable of bringing new life from death. As Christians, we share in the hope and joy of the resurrection, in whatever forms it may come.
Oh God of us all, no matter where we fall on that map of church history, help us live into this prayer that Jesus prayed for us so long ago. Jesus prays that we might be one as you and he are one; may it be so in every celebration of communion, and someday, may it be so in all the moments of our lives. Amen.