One in Christ

Easter 7  – 2012

John 17.6-19

Marian Free

 In the name of God who binds us together as one. Amen.

 One form of literature that is found in the Bible is that of the farewell speech – the instructions, words of wisdom or the blessing that a biblical hero gives before he dies. For example, when Abraham nears the end of his life, he gives instructions with regard to the marriage of Isaac. In his turn the blind Isaac blesses Jacob – inadvertently giving him his brother’s birth right. Later Jacob, on his death bed, blesses all twelve of his sons. Moses’ farewell speech takes up the entire book of Deuteronomy as he reminds the Israelites of the story of the Exodus, of their covenant with God and their responsibilities as people of God.

Following this pattern Jesus, in John’s gospel, takes advantage of his last meal with the disciples to give his farewell speech. In it he warns this disciples that he is going to leave them, he provides instruction for the community which will emerge in his absence and finally, in chapter 17, he prays for the disciples, for those who will come to faith through them and he prays for the world. Two of the themes in this prayer are pertinent to our weekly Eucharist. First of all, Jesus acknowledges that the faith of the disciples is lived out in the world even though that might be difficult. Secondly, Jesus prays that the disciples might be united in the same way that Jesus and God are one. Unity with the world and with Jesus are central to our Eucharistic celebrations.

Last week we looked at the Daily Office and discovered that it is a very particular type of prayer. It is formal, objective and dispassionate. However, when we say the Office we are connected with Christians all around the world who are saying the office at the same time as us or who are beginning and ending as we end and begin. This regular pattern creates a continuous cycle of prayer around the world – hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year.

Even though the Eucharist too has a set form and is repeated on a regular basis all over the world, its function is quite different. If the office is objective, disinterested praise, the Eucharist is personal, intimate and relational. Whereas the office is a means of taking the self out of our worship, the Eucharist provides an opportunity for us to bring our whole selves and all our concerns to worship. We seek to engage and be engaged by God and to be connected with God’s action in the world. As such, when we come to the Eucharist, there is no need to leave our self behind – we come as we are with all our flaws and all our desires. In the Eucharist there is no room for pretence and no need for disguise. We are not seeking to be detached and indifferent, but to be completely involved, to enter into a relationship with God that is real and authentic.  For this reason we come to the Eucharist just as we are – broken, flawed and needy – believing that in this time of worship, God will heal our wounds, fill our emptiness and make us whole.

There is nothing dry and unemotional about the worship we offer in the Eucharist. It is worship that is both passionate and deeply honest. From its inception as Jesus’ final meal, the Eucharist was coloured by the ambiguities, foolishness and pride that characterise human nature. The brokenness and betrayal that are embodied in the Last Supper are at the centre of our worship. We share with those first disciples our vulnerability, our confusion and our failure to understand God’s purpose. In our prayer and in our confession, we identify in our own lives moments of betrayal and we recognise that we are broken and weak. From the start of the service we are laid bare – we worship the God from whom no secrets are hidden. Later we recognise that are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under the table. It is this self awareness that gives our worship depth and meaning and which enables us to engage with God openly and genuinely.

At the same time, as members of the community around us and of the whole human race, we come to our worship bearing the anguish and despair of the world and laying them before God in the hope that they might be redeemed. Through our own brokenness and pain we are united us to each other and to the suffering of the world. We are united in our frailty. We who come to worship are not distinct from the world by virtue of our goodness or our morality or our uprightness. We share with all people our vulnerability, our potential to do wrong and to cause harm to others. Despite our faith we are not protected from loss and grief. Through our brokenness we united to the brokenness of the world. The pain and the suffering of the world becomes our pain and suffering. We cannot be truly whole until others have the opportunity to be whole.

Brokenness is not only our condition as we approach the Eucharist, brokenness is at the heart of the Eucharist. Jesus identifies with the brokenness of the world by becoming one of us and allowing himself to be broken and poured out for us. Our unity with the world is based on our brokenness. Our unity with Jesus is a consequence of his brokenness. Week after week, we remember Jesus entering into our human experience and giving his life for our sake. Jesus becomes one with us so that we might become one with him. Jesus is broken for us so that we might become whole. In the Eucharist as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we signify our union with Christ and his with us. As we share the one bread and drink from the common cup, we signify our common life in and with Jesus. “We who are many are one body, for we all share in the same bread.”

In sharing our humanity, Jesus restores our humanity. In the sharing of the bread and the wine, we one with Christ and we are restored and made whole. When Jesus instituted the Last Supper, he not only gave us a perpetual remembrance of his death and passion, but he established this meal by which we would be forever connected to him and united to each other.

Throughout the gospel, Jesus has made it clear that he and the Father are one. Now, in this his final prayer, he expresses the wish that his disciples might share with each other the sort of intimacy that he has with the Father. He gives no instructions as to what this unity might look like, or how it might be achieved, instead he gives himself completely and through this meal asks them and therefore us, to enter fully into the experience so that by being intimately connected to him we might also be connected to one another.

It is hard to say what this unity should look like. I don’t imagine that it means that we should all think the same or act the same but rather that we should have the courage to acknowledge our brokenness and to recognise that in the light of our own imperfections our differences are of little consequence and that our union with Christ binds us together in a way that nothing else can.

When we say: “We are the body of Christ” we are signifying that collectively and individually we are the continuing presence of Christ in the world. May we strive to live as the body of Christ – united to each other in love and united with God in our compassion for the world.

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