Sermon for Sunday, May 8, 2016
Seventh Sunday of Easter
“That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in my and I am in you, may they also be in us… so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”
As convoluted as today’s gospel may sound, some say that John chapter 17 – from which today’s gospel is taken – is the most important passage, not only in John, but in the entire New Testament. Some say that John 17 is the most important passage in the entire New Testament because John 17 – in particular the portion of it read today – tells us that the point of Jesus’ life, the whole reason the Son became incarnate, is to make us one. One with each other, one with the Father, one with the whole world: “That they all may be one.”
To fully appreciate the one-ness of which John speaks, it helps to take a step back and remember the sweep of the Gospel as a whole. Remember how the Gospel of John is in a sense a re-enactment of the liturgy of the Day of Atonement; in John’s gospel Jesus the High Priest makes a virtual walk through the Temple to the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the “mercy seat.” “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus in John chapter 6 (as he walks past the table of showbread). “I am the light of the world,” he says in chapter 8 (as he walks past the golden lampstand). “I am the gate for the sheep,” he says in chapter 10 (as he approaches the “curtain” to the “Holy of Holies,” where – as both priest and sacrifice – Jesus offers himself for the sins of the whole world). The liturgy of the Day of Atonement atoned for the sins of the people and once again allowed creation to flow, restoring the world to its original unity with its Creator. But now – John writes in about 100CE, 30 years after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans – that the Temple has been destroyed and the rites can no longer be celebrated, John makes the extraordinary claim that Jesus is the new Temple; in him the world has the possibility once again made “whole,” of being restored to the one-ness that existed “before the foundation of the world.”
The particular twist that John adds is that this restoration is made possible, not by the sacrifices of bulls and goats, but in relationship: relationship with God and relationship with each other. And for John, the two are inseparable. Because of Jesus, relationship with God is connected to our relationship with our neighbor, and our relationship with our neighbor is connected to God: “I in them and you I me, that they may be completely one.”
For John, we enter into this “double-yet-one” relationship by something we do. That “something” we do is what John does: liturgy. The liturgy that John invites us to do is the very one we are doing here this morning: not the sacrifice of bulls and goats as on the Day of Atonement, but a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that recalls his death, resurrection and ascension. For John, our liturgy has the very same effect as the Day of Atonement: it makes us one.
- Our liturgy unites us with each other – not merely because we worship together and worship is intimate and bonding – but because we are united in Christ in the one bread and the one cup.
- Our liturgy unites us with Christ. This “spiritual food” makes us “living members of the Body of Christ.”
- Our liturgy unites us with the Father. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” In Jesus, we are united with the Father.
Perhaps most importantly, our liturgy holds the potential for uniting the whole world: “So that the world may believe that you have sent me,” says Jesus. “This is my Blood… which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins,” says our Eucharistic prayer. We are not to think that what we do here is merely for the benefit of those who are here, for our consolation and our forgiveness. Just as the rites of the Day of Atonement were for the whole people and once again allowed creation to flow for the entire world, so what we do here within these walls bears import well beyond them. Our liturgy is both service to God and… we do it for the entire world.
Speaking to a conference on the Eucharistic this past February, Pope Francis called the Eucharist “a leaven of peace and reconciliation for the entire world.” Not just for those present at the Eucharist. Not just for Roman Catholics. But “for the entire world.” What we do here has the potential to restore wholeness to the entire world, restoring our relationships with one another and restoring our relationship with God. Here is the full quote from the Pope:
Dear friends, may this Eucharist… strengthen you in your love of Christ… May it enable you, as missionary disciples, to bring this great experience of… communion and missionary outreach to your families, your parishes and communities, and your local Churches. May it be a leaven of reconciliation and peace for the entire world.
Reconciliation and peace is what this world so desperately needs. Being made whole – being made one – is what our hearts so earnestly want. John tells us that this one-ness, this unity – with each other, with God, with the whole world – is possible in relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope that as we worship this morning – as we are with each other, as we listen to the Word, as we receive the sacrament – that we may let him be in us as he is in the Father. That we may open ourselves and let him in, so that he may be in us and we in him, that we may be completely one. That – bit by bit, week by week in this Eucharist, celebrated not just for us but for the entire world – all may be completely one.