We are called upon to address a topic which has been addressing itself to us, and the Christian community at large, ever since our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that we be one as He and the Father are one. The cause of Christian Unity is not only a concern to theologians and Christian academics. It is equally a real concern for each and every one of us present here. Also to the millions of those baptized in Jesus’ Name in different parts of our globe.
WE ARE ONE IN HIM
One of the great gifts of the Church, as well as to the Church, is what we call Christian Fellowship, i.e. the act of coming together, of joining hands and hearts and of joining voices in praise of Him, Jesus Christ, who counted us worthy to be called His beloved. Does it not echo Jesus’ prayer: “I pray that they be one even as we are one”? (John 17:11) Jesus’ unity with the Father is divine. It is not only indestructible; it stands the severest strain without breaking. This is so because it is a unity that is founded on a ceaseless flow of self-giving love. Yes, on love divine, or if you wish on divine love. Such is the unity that Jesus desires and prays that we have too. Our gathering around His holy table is of the essence of our faith, also a sacred part of our creed. We either believe or work towards that “ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH”, or we better cease to fool ourselves and others around us. May the Almighty God empower us with His divine love to see it come true.
LOVE, FAITH, HOPE, DOCTRINE, TRADITION?
What comes first must be first. “Simon Ben Jonah” Jesus asked, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus did not enquire about Faith and Order, or about Doctrine and Tradition. He wanted to be sure about Simon’s love for Him which will enable him to accomplish the mission entrusted to him. Peter’s love for Jesus moved the mountains and paved the way for the old world to seek Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The number of the early disciples was far less than the number present here. Their means were zero compared to what the Church institution has. Yet, they managed to change the course of human history. They had what we do not have. They loved Jesus more than anything else. Paul and Apollos were secondary. What mattered to them in their daily living and in spreading the good news was knowing Jesus and Him crucified. They did not have the luxury to sit relaxed discussing dates and doctrine. For them “now ” was the acceptable time, time for action. For them the bridegroom is one, so also the bride, why have two or three weddings? Today the chaos resulting, for example, from celebrating three Christmases, two Good Fridays, two Easters, two …… ….. ….. ? you name it, weakens our mission in a world where two thirds of its inhabitants are not Christians.
Fear rather than hope keeps distancing us from that day when we meet round His table. We continue to be controlled by fear. The fear of what may develop seems to be greater than the love required to do away with such fear. I have no doubt that some fears are genuine. Fear that TRUTH will be compromised, that our precious heritage may be lost. Bishop Hollis, one of the chief negotiators of the Church of South India, used to say: “To expect to have a full understanding before uniting is like asking for a complete grasp of marriage as a precondition of the willingness to marry.”
At the root of the modern fractioning of the Church into “RIGHT” and “LEFT” is the conceptual separation of LOVE and TRUTH. The LEFT insists on LOVE without the TRUTH of sound doctrine. The RIGHT insists on the TRUTH of sound doctrine ignoring the need for love and unity within the Church. LOVE and TRUTH, in their fullest reality, cannot exist separately. Yet LOVE is the greatest. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, affirms this: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. This is what we need today: LOVE DIVINE, as the song goes: “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down. Fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown. Jesus thou art all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation. Enter every trembling heart.” We must dare to love in a world that does not know how to love.
Dear friends: Long years have been spent in the search for UNITY within the Body of Christ. Thousands of pages have been dedicated for this subject. We differ in our views about how the Spirit could create unity in the midst of diversity. Some try to exclude from God’s unconditional love those whom God insists on including in His divine compassion and grace. Whereas, on that first Pentecost in Jerusalem, each one heard the apostles speaking in the native language of each. (Acts 2:6). One wonders whether, because of our lack of love divine, we were brought back to Babel. (Genesis 11:6-7) “And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
How hopeless some have become. Like the early disciples on the lake of Galilee, I hear many say: “We have labored the whole night but caught nothing.” Hundreds of years. Thousands of meetings and yet we caught nothing worth the time and the energy spent. We are fed up. It is hopeless and a waste of time. The question is justly asked: Have we been throwing our nets to the right side, into the deep? Or have we been seeking the living among the dead? I want to believe that we were sincere and honest in our search. What we need is a touch of the Holy Spirit, a touch of love, Love Divine.
Dear sisters and brothers, let us never give up hope. The darkest moments in any night, also in the night of our search for Christian unity, are those moments that precede the dawn. The dawn is drawing nigh. Let us remain awake.
The search for unity must continue. D.T. Niles of South India used to say: “We unite in order to unite”. In our liturgy, we affirm “though we are many we are one body because we share in the bread. If we believe that we are God’s people, then we know that we are designed to fit as pieces of a puzzle to form a united picture of divine love. God wants us to be one. Let us get going, in greater hope, in greater faith and in greater love.
Allow me to close with St. Paul in prayer: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Jesus Christ, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. ” (Romans 15:5-6). Let all say: A M E N.