Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thursday in the 7th Week of Easter
Sacrament of Unity and Love

Readings: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11; Psalm 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; John 17:20-26

May they be so completely one that the world will realize that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me…

It is sometimes said that the Church is a sacrament, a visible and effective sign, of the kingdom of God. By this is meant that when the world looks at or comes in contact with the Church, the Body of Christ, it can actually be brought into the presence of God. Simply put, to meet the Christian community, or any part of it, is to meet Christ and so to have a God-experience. Indeed, it is on this sacramental quality of the Church as a whole, that the effectiveness of the seven sacraments is based. To meet a true Christian is somehow to have a God-experience. Awesome thought!

And today, Jesus spells out for us how this happens. The Church becomes a visible and effective sign of God’s presence in our midst especially when it is united in the love that the Father has for the Son. Instead of providing us with an illustration of what this looks like, our first reading today presents us with a negative demonstration. Although the event is described as a meeting, we see quite clearly that it is anything but. Although there may be physical proximity of bodies within an enclosed space, there is obviously no meeting as such. We notice, for example, the frequency with which words such as dispute and split and protest and tear… to pieces are used in the text. These are words of division not meeting. And it is perhaps not surprising that it should be so. We are told that the group is made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. And although both groups hold divergent beliefs, they cling to their respective views with the same hardheaded stubbornness and tenacity. Can there truly be a discussion between them, let alone a meeting of the minds? This is a good illustration of how the world conducts its meetings.

Of course, as Christians, we must side with the Pharisees and argue for the belief in the resurrection. But must we also imitate them in the way in which they conduct their meeting? Or does the prayer of Jesus in today’s gospel not indicate to us another way? Among Christians, Jesus emphasizes a unity based on the love between the Father and the Son. How is this unity arrived at? What might the process look like? And how might it differ from what we find in the first reading, where there is merely a stubborn insistence on imposing one’s views on the other? What might our meetings look like if we were instead to first insist on reminding ourselves that we are all loved by God and so try to love one another, even in the midst of our differences? Would this not imply that, rather than emphasizing our differences at the outset, we should first seek common ground? And wouldn’t this common ground then provide us with a firmer basis upon which to carry on our discussions? More than that, if we were indeed to carry on our conversations with other Christians in this way, would we not then be playing a part in the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus today? Is this not a way in which we might show the world who Jesus is and so begin to assume our dignity and role as sacrament of the kingdom of God?

If it is indeed true that to meet a Christian is to have a God-experience, how are we being called to fulfill this high calling today?

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