Text: John 17:20-26
Date: Easter VII + 5/12/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. For having come into the world, having come to us, having come for us and for all, He now ascends to rule all in glory and in grace. He leaves behind a world similar to the one He came, but now redeemed in hope that looks to His coming again. This world was and is filled with the variety of cultures and languages and ethnicities, physical variations of God’s creative design. For all that variety, however, as someone has said there is but one race, the human race. The sinful world divides and alienates people over differences of culture or language or physical appearance. The redeemed people of God are being gathered into one and see that oneness to be God’s will for all people.
So also there is but one Savior, Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through the One who came to us, the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. Today, on this “silent” Sunday between His ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we recall His words of prayer to His Father on behalf of all who believed in Him and will believe in Him to this day. Three times He prays, “that they may be one.” He prays for the unity of His Church, and not just a unity in name only or something that just looks like unity but a deep, real unity with substance like unto only the unity of Persons in the Holy Trinity Himself, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.”
We continue to remember and to live that prayer. It’s because of our Lord’s will for unity that we dare, for instance, to call what we do here on Sunday in our little congregation, “The Worship of the Holy Church Throughout the World!” It is with a vision of the Una Sancta, the One Holy Church that we believe and live and move and have our being. Certainly this unity is seen only with the eyes of faith for by the outward look of things there is little unity, little agreement even in the basic, fundamental doctrines or teachings of God in Jesus Christ, the substance of faith. The most basic disagreement has to do with the most fundamental issue of salvation: the justification (or salvation) of the sinner by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone. For many are they, and for different reasons, who insist that in addition to faith, salvation must, to some degree or another, also be earned or deserved by our works, by something we must do in the way of the Law in order to win God’s favor. But in His prayer Jesus identifies you and all believers not as those who have come to Him or gave their life to Him, but as those as He said, “whom you (Father) have given me.” It is God Himself, the Holy Spirit who effectively “calls, gathers and enlightens” otherwise weak, estranged, shepherdless sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
This past Ascension Thursday we prayed in the Collect that, “as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him.” Did you hear that? That we may dwell “with Him.” Today we recall His own prayer, “that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am.” This justification of the sinner by God’s grace through faith in Christ is all about the ending of our separation from God because of our sin and, through the forgiveness and sending away of our sin, God reuniting us with Him, solely because of His great love for His creation, His great love for you!
I always emphasize on Genesis chapter 3, the account of the fall into sin, that when God came, as Moses wrote, “walking in the garden in the cool of the day,” the Lord God did not call to the man saying to him, “Adam, WHO are you?” but rather, “Adam, WHERE are you?” (Gen 3:9). Sin is separation. The Savior is Emmanuel, the “with us” God, if you will. And so now, even though our Lord has ascended back from where He came and rules and reigns at God’s right hand, He is still with us and we with Him through faith. And He prays for us that we may be one.
This unity or oneness is seen and expressed in two ways. First, we are one, even across all the variations of cultures and languages and ethnicities, each because we are the unique creation of God the Father Almighty, Maker of all. This view of the world is the motivating factor behind our Lord’s prayer and the mission of His Church. Because of sin, transgression of God’s good and gracious Law, Adam and Eve “knew that they were naked.” There would be pain in childbearing and pain and sweat in daily work and a general hostility even with creation itself. Because of sin, Cain murdered his brother Able. Because of sin, that is, because “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” God caused the great flood to wipe out mankind saving only Noah and his family. Of the nations that descended from Noah at first everyone had one language. Yet they used this oneness in defiance of God the Creator. Therefore the Lord confused their language and dispersed them over the face of all the earth (Gen 11:7-9).
Because of all this sin and judgment and separation and death then, and because of His abiding love, nevertheless, for His creation, God sent His only Son. In Him God Himself came and through the sacrifice of His holy body and blood on the cross He took away the power of sin to divide and kill and destroy anymore for all whom He calls to Himself in the forgiveness of their sins.
Having been reunited with God through the forgiveness of your sins, our unity and oneness is therefore most essentially expressed by your living in the forgiveness of each other’s sin, even as we yet feebly struggle ourselves. This is the glory God gave His Son and that He has given us, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17), may display that love in a life of forgiveness. This is how our oneness, then, reveals to the world the knowledge that it was because God sent His Son Jesus and with that knowledge come to repentance and faith and eternal life in His name.
Finally, to be where Jesus is for now means primarily in His Word and Sacrament and the fellowship of His body the Church. For it will be through that faith, forgiveness and fellowship that we will most certainly be with the Lord in heaven and in the new earth and new heavens of eternal life on the day of resurrection.
The Lord be with you. Remain and abide in the forgiveness of your sins and in the hope of everlasting life.