Finding unity between Christians is often challenging – but the rewards are beyond our imagination, writes the Revd Anders Litzell, Prior of the Community of St Anselm.
This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – when we pray for it and, at the same time, remind one another of the unity we have been given in Christ. Despite our best efforts at obscuring the fact from time to time, Christian unity is absolutely foundational to our identity in Christ.
One of the Scriptures that I am often reminded of, and have often marvelled at, is Jesus’ last ‘public’ prayer before he was handed over to suffering and death (John 17). He prays to His Father “that they (i.e. you and I) may be one, as we are one” – and repeats that emphasis over and over throughout the prayer.
Now I don’t even know who you are, reading this – yet if you love Jesus, we are bound together by God’s answering that prayer even now. On another level, it is for us to work out the answer to that prayer when we meet; to live out in our lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit, what our Lord has declared that we shall be.
There is a profound promise embedded in this prayer too: “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.” (vv 22f.)
To be honest, I can’t even imagine the full fulfilment of that promise; but I can understand that if I shall live to see it in this world, I’ll need you. Receiving the full fruit of this promise on my lonesome is just not an option. (That’s not an argument against solitude, but it is an argument against personal isolation.)
St Paul echoes this prayer in his exhortation to the Ephesians (ch 4): “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
St Paul is emphasising the foundational unity, but acknowledging that we are different, with varied gifts of grace; yet we are one … one … one. In St Paul’s days the biggest difference that existed in the Church was between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). We have even more variety in our cultures and expressions of faith. It is for us to probe, to search for, to draw out in one another the “grace [given] according to the measure of Christ’s gift” in each person, tradition, expression of faith.
That’s not something you’ll do in a week – that is a lifetime’s worth of joyful, and deeply challenging, discovery. But since the reward is so rich, let’s press on “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”