May They Be One
Article by Mike Birch
Imagine walking into a church building for the first time. Maybe you’ve just moved to the area. Maybe you’re looking for somewhere to connect spiritually or socially. Maybe you feel like you need something, but are not sure what that is.
What do you look for? Some of us look for a quiet place where we won’t be hassled so we can just observe the surroundings, the people and what goes on. Some of us look for people to strike up a conversation with. The confident ones will initiate, the rest of us will hope there’s some friendly faces on the lookout for guests.
What helps you feel like you fit there? Like you could belong?
Is it people your age – or the ages of your children? Is it music you like? Is it the relevance of the teaching to your life? Is it the quality of the facilities? The friendliness of the people? A worship format that you are familiar with?
Rewind to the night that Jesus shared His last Passover meal with His disciples. The night that began the ordeal of the cross.
As He prepared Himself and His disciples for what was about to happen, Jesus prayed the most profound prayer ever recorded. Not only did He pray for Himself and the disciples with Him; He also prayed for all those who would come to believe in Him. He prayed for us.
“My prayer is not for [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
– John 17:20-23 (NIV84)
He prayed that we might be one. One in an incredibly profound, supernatural way. One in a way that reflects the unity of God Himself – Father, Son and Spirit.
This kind of unity goes way beyond any human imitation or inclination. It’s deeper than common ground in age, music, gender, sexuality, social status, economic status, education, sporting affiliations, hobbies, political views or opinions on anything for that matter!
It’s a kind of unity that even goes beyond friendliness and a focus on making guests feel welcome.
It’s a glorious unity that can only be given by Christ Himself (v22) through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
It’s community characterised by a sense of freedom and security that comes from knowing that we are deeply loved by Him and by each other. Unconditionally loved.
It’s community that releases the pressure that comes from trying to keep up appearances. Of hiding our mistakes, fears and doubts. We can be who we are right now, yet support each other on the journey of becoming more like Jesus. It’s community that illustrates the gospel.
That’s what leads us to communion.
Communion is something we do in obedience to Christ in order to remember Him (eg: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Communion illustrates everything that makes us one. Like baptism, it enacts the message of the gospel. The message that every single human being is in the same condition without Christ – we are alienated from God and deserving judgement for our sins against Him. The message of free forgiveness made possible because Christ’s death has paid the penalty for our sin. The message that having been reconciled to God we can live as His children with His Spirit within us as a living presence, the guarantee of a future where we will enjoy God the Father, Son and Spirit forever together with saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Differences don’t cause division. Sin does. Sin places our differences into competition.
Commonality doesn’t produce unity. Christ does. Freed from bondage to sin our differences become flavours of His grace.
Communion drives us back to those realities.
I was at a rock concert recently with around 13,000 other people. People were dancing, singing, waving arms in the air and generally getting pretty excited. It was great! There was a real sense of belonging because we liked the same music, the same artist. But music that unifies can also alienate. Lovers of classical music or hip hop may not have felt at home!
What is it that the Church offers that nothing else on earth can match? What makes us feel like we belong… and invites us to if we don’t yet?
It’s the gospel. The gospel that is enacted every time we take communion together.