The Church is the presence of Jesus Christ on the face of the earth.
Once again, this is Jesus’ astounding message and prayer for His disciples this morning. Do you marvel to behold the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary at Christmas time? Do you rejoice to see that day come every year?
Then you should also marvel and rejoice with exceedingly great joy that God has chosen to send His Son in the world today – through you. Now this sending of the Son into the world, the Incarnation, is a truth so grand and miraculous, that most of us give up on trying to comprehend it. We never will comprehend it, as in fully understanding or incorporating it. And yet I hope we never stop trying to understand it and marvel at it and live by it.
I marvel just as much, though, that God became man not only through the Son made flesh but also through you and me. I can almost understand how God can become man. I know that God is all powerful and holy and can do all His holy will – even to the point of squeezing into the rather confined space of a human body.
But that miracle is multiplied and magnified a myriad fold when God performs it within me. Maybe God can take a perfect man or perfect humanity and become Him. But how can He choose to dwell with me, within me? There is something greater here, and it relates to the point of the Incarnation. Why did Jesus become man? Was it just to show off His power and glory (which would be good enough reasons)? Was it because that was the only way He could save us?
Or is there something more to it? What if God became man that man might become God? Now if I meant this in an absolute sense, that we can actually become God, then I believe I’d be a heretic. But the Church Fathers, both East and West, taught that “God was made man, that man might be made God.” Some would say that this divinization consists of seeing God’s glory or energies and others His essence. The truth is that one way or another, we were created and redeemed to participate more closely in God’s nature than most of us would dare to dream of, without being God ourselves.
And yet if we hear the words of Jesus, we hear Him speaking to us about being made one with Him. God truly became man. Does this have no real implications for how closely I can relate to Him?
To begin with, He has given us His Holy Spirit, as He promised in John 14, and that makes us His Temple, the place where He dwells. But isn’t this the same kind of language that Jesus uses for Himself – that He is the Temple of God where God truly dwells with man and man with God? And aren’t we called the Body of Jesus Christ and His Bride, to be made one flesh with Him? These are intensely intimate words, and surely they mean something coming from Him Who Is the Word and by whose word all things were created and who has given us the Word of the Father (verse 14).
How closely are we related to God, how intimately are we united to Him, even now? Jesus says we are to do His work, just as He did on earth. For this reason, He says in verse 5 that “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” He’s finished His work, but He must also continue it through us. “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (verse 18).
How closely are we united to God? Jesus says that we are now of divine birth and origin: we are not of this world (verses 14 and 16). We have truly been born from above.
In John 17, as Jesus begins to transfer His ministry to those united to Him and who participate in the divine nature, He speaks a lot about unity. Every Christian knows that we are to seek unity, but too often I think we like to begin by saving the whole world, when God has something more humble in mind. We want world unity and church unity, and many of us eagerly and rightly desire it. Personally, I’m interested in what Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholic Christians are saying to each other and how they are talking about reunion. I’m even more interested in what both of these churches have to say to Anglicans. Sad are the divisions we have in the church, and we should seek unity.
Some Christians approach church unity as if it’s their job to save the world, so to speak, and so they agonize over church unity. Many of them are Protestants who thus feel compelled to flee to Rome or Orthodoxy, thinking they have done their part to promote church unity and save the world, not realizing that they may have demolished familial and ecclesiastical peace and unity and life in the process.
It’s noble to “Save the World,” but not when it means losing yourself or others that God has put close to you in your life (i.e. neighbors). It’s easier, it’s more impressive, it’s groovier, to claim to be saving the world.
Some say that we can save the world by using fluorescent light bulbs or using only one square of toilet paper per visit. Even in public restrooms, the message seems to be that we can save the world by using electric hand-drying machines.
However, it dawned on me one day that the apparently environment-friendly, world-saving thing we are asked to do may actually have the opposite consequence. But at least it looks good before men. It occurred to me that to create enough heat to dry one’s hands, you need a lot of heat from some energy source. Now where does this energy come from? It comes from some hydrocarbon source that is burned to produce the electricity to run hand-drying machines. This is a two-fer deal for those who want to save the world. Not only do you consume precious hydrocarbons every time you wash your hands with electric heat in this Save the World way but you also pollute the earth.
And so we try to promote church unity way out there and disrupt and trouble our houses and the lives of those we love, when all along God has asked us to seek a much more intimate and humble kind of unity. I can’t do much about seeking such grand unity other than praying. God has something much more modest in mind for me, and something nearly as difficult to accomplish. But it’s also something just as important. What God wants from me is for me to seek unity with Him, that I might seek unity within myself, and then within my family, and outward in radiating, glorious, concentric circles of unity.
I might lay awake at night worrying about the reunion of orthodox Anglicans with each other and Anglicans with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians and Anglicans with other Protestants. But all along what God really wants from me, since I’m not the Pope (yet), is to seek unity with the Christians who are already in my life. This unity is to exist between Jackie and me especially, and then with me and my children, my extended family, and the parishioners in my local church.
I may want to save the world, but the Lord is asking me to do something much more difficult (since I can’t really save the world but only dream about it – and that’s pretty easy): to seek unity by loving and serving the Christians already in my life. “Think globally, act locally” is a slogan that is never more true than in the Church.
The unity I am commanded to seek, ultimately, is the Unity that already exists within the Godhead, between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s not something I can create. But it is something I can enter into, and this is the hope and glory of the Incarnation and Pentecost. It’s also the only hope I have for any kind of human unity in Christ.
Here is an amazing proclamation of true unity and divinization (or deification or theosis): “All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them” (verse 10). God’s kingdom, and power, and glory proceed from Him to us in this order: Father=>Son=>Spirit=>Christians=>world. Jesus’ prayers for us, for whom He lived and died, and rose again and ascended, and sent the Holy Spirit, is that we may be one as He and the Father are (verse 11). He prays, even for us right here and right now, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (verse 21).
Here is how we seek and achieve unity, by being one with the Holy Trinity. When we do this, we do the will of the Father, that “the world may believe that You sent Me” (21). For this reason, He has put His glory in us, His treasure in these earthen vessels: “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (verses 22 and 23).
How shall we ever hope to see His glory and to participate in this Holy Trinity in Unity? “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am” (verse 24). “How can these things be unto me?” I ask with Mary. I must be united with Him even now. I must be in heaven with Him, in some sense, even now (see Ephesians 2:6)!
And then, when I have sought unity with He Who Is Unity, then I will be one with my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. And as this happens, then the world will awaken and begin to listen to His voice again, the Word which created us to be with Him as He is in the Father.
Prayer: Dear Jesus! ’tis Thy Holy Face
Is here the start that guides my way;
Thy countenance, so full of grace,
Is heaven on earth, for me, today.
And love finds holy charms for me
In Thy sweet eyes with tear-drops wet;
Through mine own tears I smile at Thee,
And in Thy griefs my pains forget.
How gladly would I live unknown,
Thus to console Thy aching heart.
Thy veiled beauty, it is shown
To those who live from earth apart.
I long to fly to Thee alone!
Thy Face is now my fatherland,
The radiant sunshine of my days,
My realm of love, my sunlit land,
Where, all life long, I sing Thy praise;
It is the lily of the vale,
Whose mystic perfume, freely given,
Brings comfort, when I faint and fail,
And makes me taste the peace of heaven.
Thy face, in its unearthly grace,
Is like the divinest myrrh to me,
That on my heart I gladly place;
It is my lyre of melody;
My rest – my comfort – is Thy Face.
My only wealth, Lord! is thy Face;
I ask naught else than this from Thee;
Hid in the secret of that Face,
The more I shall resemble Thee!
Oh, leave on me some impress faint
Of Thy sweet, humble, patient Face,
And soon I shall become a saint,
And draw men to Thy saving grace.
So, in the secret of Thy Face,
Oh! hide me, hide me, Jesus blest!
There let me find its hidden grace,
Its holy fires, and, in heaven’s rest,
Its rapturous kiss, in Thy embrace!
(Thérèse of Lisieux)
Point for Meditation:
Meditate on how much unity you feel with God; with yourself; with your spouse; with your children; with your relatives; and with your church. Explore the ways in which unity is there but muted or invisible and ways in which it has been disrupted. Seek to hear what God is telling you about this.
Resolution: I resolve to seek either unity with God through prayer and meditation today, or one specific way to seek unity close to home; whichever God directs me to do.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson