Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Make them one. . .
In the high priestly prayer that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He prays Himself and for you and for me and for everyone who believes in Him. For Himself His prayer is the simple acknowledgment that the hour has come for the glory of the cross. He is ready and willing to undertake this glory even though it comes at the cost of His own suffering and death because of the larger goal of eternal life for all those who believe in Him. His earthly works are now not simply finished but complete and they have culminated in this moment, when He will mount the altar of the cross not as reluctant victim but as willing sacrifice.
His prayer summarizes that earthly work. He has manifested the Name of the Father to believers. He has kept those whom the Father has given Him in the fellowship of His Word. He has spoken to them what the Father has willed, the words of the Law, the prophets, and the Psalms and how they testify to Jesus. He celebrates the fruitfulness of this Word in delivering to Hi the faithful who have come to know the truth of Jesus, that He is the everlasting Son of the Father, the Son of God in flesh and blood. He rejoices in the faith that the Spirit has planted in their hearts and acknowledges that believers no longer belong to the devil, the world, or even themselves — they belong to the Father. Jesus will walk to the cross and arise from the empty tomb and ascend to the right hand of the Father all so that the disciples, the faithful through the generations, and you and I will be saved.
But Jesus will not remain in the world – at least not as He was. He will not be hidden from the world in the means of grace, in the Word and Sacraments. He will continue His saving work among His people but that work will be through the voices of those who speak His Word and deliver His grace to His people and those whose witness before the world will continue to draw the elect unto Himself. But the people of God will not be alone. The Father will guard them, the Lord will feed them, and the Holy Spirit will keep them amid doubt, fear, trouble, trial, sorrow, and struggle.
And on top of this they will be one. This unity for which Jesus prays is not some paper unity in which people agree to disagree or set aside their differences or minimize them. This unity for which Jesus prays is not some organizational unity expressed in a common business structure or mailing address. This unity for which Jesus prays is not a common building in which everyone will gather or a common leader to which everyone will follow. As important as each of these things are, they are not the unity Jesus is concerned with. The unity which Jesus addresses is the same unity the Father has with the Son and the Son with the Father.
In this unity, absolute trust exists. Jesus does not wrestle with doubts but has absolute confidence in the Word of the Father. Jesus speaks this Word as His own and is that Word in flesh, our servant in suffering that we might be saved. Jesus lives by that Word, whether alone in the wilderness coming to terms with His future or fighting the temptations of the devil or working His way around the plans and presumptions of people who wish to prevent Him from fulfilling His purpose. Jesus is praying that our faith may be like His own faith. Now there is a big prayer. We daily wrestle with doubts and we are driven by so many fears and we spend our time hiding our sins and we still harbor the belief that our job in life is to get to the head of the line, accomplish all our hopes and dreams, and then, if there is room left, be holy and righteous.
Jesus prays that we will be perfectly united with the Father as He is. That means being of one will and purpose. Here on earth we mark differences and celebrate diversity and treat everything as if it existed to be customized and personalized. But Jesus prays instead that our wills will submit to the will of our Father in heaven, that we will not work to forge our own path but walk in Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus prays that we will find perfect fulfillment not in our own ways but loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus prays for our unity not as a choice but as an identity, the way we might say blood is thicker than water in describing our families.
This means that Jesus is praying not only for our salvation but for our sanctification, not simply that we be justified in Christ before the Father but that we learn from Him to love holiness, to seek righteousness, to walk in the justice that is His Law and to show mercy as He has been merciful to us. For this is the way of life that flows from the Father to us in Christ. It is the fruit of saving faith and it is the mark of true Christian identity and unity. Doctrine does not exist in limbo but doctrine is given that we might know the truth and walk in it by faith. The goal of doctrine, like the goal of faith, like the goal of good works, is to glorify the God who has saved us not because we deserved it but because of His grace.
We have heard and seen a lot in this pandemic. Much of it we wish to have never heard or seen and pray that we might forget. Some have said that one of the things we have learned is that we really do not need to be together around the Word and Table of the Lord to be the Church. We can do good and pray at home and watch services on line and this is enough. But that is the lie of necessity. When we cannot do any more, we settle for the less we can do.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Church is the Church first of all when we as the people of God by baptism and faith are gathered where His Word is preached and where His Sacraments are administered. We cannot be without this intimate assembly and this personal gathering. If we can and must, we will find ways to survive until this can happen again. But we are sustained and guarded and guided by nothing less than the Word of the Lord and the Sacraments of Christ. It is from these that faith is born and it is in these that faith is sustained. It is here that we are united with Christ and to the Father by the power of the Spirit. It is from here that we learn to do the will of the Father in the works of the Law as the delight of our hearts and the goal of our lives.
The Church kept from being together around the Word and Table of the Lord is the Church under duress. Thanks be to God that are very near that day when the constraints that bound us can be set aside for the freedom to gather in His name and receive His gifts and serve Him in willing obedience. Such unity is not weak or fragile but the strongest force of all. Whether under persecution by our enemies or facing threat by a pandemic, our unity with Christ to the Father and through Christ to one another is not a matter of choice but of God’s will. Jesus prayed for that unity and we pray for it still. And may the Lord deliver us to such unity, as we hear the voice of God and are fed from the Table of the Lord for unity today and for our eternal unity in heaven. In Christ, Amen.