“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one…” (John 17:11)
I have had glimpses of Jesus’ hoped for unity among us in these last days. They have been fleeting and therefore, impossible to hold on to, and yet they have offered the kinds of momentary insight which have left me yearning for more once they have slipped away.
Here is one.
On Friday night a bunch of (mostly) Lutherans gathered in a parking lot at the University. For the most part, folks stayed in their cars and many of us were wearing the prerequisite masks which are necessary these days. I confess, though, that I did not stay in my car. I have not seen hardly anyone I have been called to serve alongside in two months and so keeping careful distance and peering at them around my mask, I did step out into the early evening air to walk among the people in their cars for just a few minutes. I was able to greet some and wave at a few more before climbing back into my own car for what came next.
For you see, we had not come only to see one another. That was just a wondrous side benefit of what would come next. We had gathered in order to form a procession down Miller Avenue. Aidan and his parents were home after 35 long days and nights spent in Chicago where he had been receiving treatment for leukemia. Between the strict need for isolation because of his treatment and the added restrictions placed because of COVID-19, my only contact with them in weeks has been by phone and Facetime.
And so it was at a little bit after 7 pm on a Friday night in May, several dozen vehicles decorated with streamers and welcome home signs were led down the street by a roaring fire engine and a flashing ambulance. As we drew near, one after another honked their horns in celebration and shouted out words of such profound love. Neighbors paused on their evening walks to watch us go by. Others stepped outside to smile and cheer along. It was, indeed, a wonder to be a part of it.
Oh, we are separated by so much these days. By politics, yes, we are. By the necessity to keep a distance because of the threat of this virus. And these days, as we struggle to see our way into the future, I expect we differ some from one another in terms of how it is we understand we should move forward. The list of all that keeps us distant from Jesus’ intent for us goes on and on. But for a shining moment on Friday night we were bound together in love and gratitude and hope for a young man and his family. I cannot help but believe that this was a wondrous sign of the unity that surely is to come one day. In Jesus’ name.
Some among you know that my dad’s last surviving sibling died early last week.
Rod was in a nursing home in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He had been there for some time. He was fragile in many ways and when he was diagnosed with COVID-19, our hearts were heavy for we knew the battle befor ehim would surely be an uphill one.
I wrote a few weeks back that part of my grief had landed on this. Family could not be with him now. And yes, this was how it came to end:
- Those who loved him deepest and longest leaned in close to phones and other electronic devices, watching his face as he breathed his last.
- His pastor prayed words of comfort and promise.
- And an aid who was at his side made the sign of the cross on his forehead at just the right moment — a sign and symbol for one and for all of all that ultimately brings us together in love, in grace, in forgiveness, and in hope.
Not together as they yearned to be, as so very many yearn to be in these suffering days, but still surely bound up together in love and in faith, in promise and in hope.
For me the news of his dying took me quickly to this:
My own dad, Rod’s only brother, died 23 years ago this last January. They were as close as brothers could be, even given the physical distance which separated them all of their adult lives. Their younger sister, Jane, died in March of that same year. We traveled to Long Island for Jane’s funeral. I had been asked to preach and as I stepped into the pulpit, I can remember looking out and my eyes resting on Rod. There was heartbreak all over that room that night, but his was unique, it seemed to me, to lose both of those beloved siblings, both of those precious ties to his own childhood, in a matter of months.
So it was that last week when we got the news, my sister Sarah said, “Well, Daddy sure waited a long time for his brother to arrive didn’t he?” And I had an image in my heart’s imagination then of those three gathered together — gathered close in a way they had not been able to be in such a very long time — and I could almost hear the laughter echo then. It’s funny, isn’t it, how the tears spring to my eyes to think of that even now.
Surely the unity, the ‘oneness’ Jesus speaks of now is finally only this:
- It is that which brings us together in spite of all that would keep us apart.
- Yes, it seems to me, this unity is always rooted and lived out in love.
- And it is ours to see and experience, even now, in those fleeting moments which we are so blessed to receive from time to time.
Even as I have these last few weeks to imagine brothers and sister somehow mysteriously together again for the first time in decades.
And as I surely did this last Friday night in the midst of a parade of well-wishers, shouting their love as they drove by.
And yet, this is also so. My tears are close to the surface in both instances (and many more, I’m afraid) as I find myself yearning for so much more which seems especially far away particularly in these days of ‘physical distancing.’ And yet, these glimpses of Jesus’ intent for us all do carry me now. And for this and so much more, I am so very grateful.
- How do you understand the ‘unity,’ the ‘oneness,’ Jesus promises now? What does it mean to you?
- Is such unity something we achieve, is it gift, or is it some holy combination of the two and more?
- Where have you glimpsed this wondrous unity of late? What stories might you add to mine?
And also these…
- How does this unity of which Jesus speaks move beyond our relatively small circles which we have known and cherished?
- And what does it mean to consider our unity as all caught up with those who are suffering most profoundly at the hands of COVID-19?
- Indeed, if this unity is rooted in love, what does it mean to love those we have never and may never know?
How do we live with Jesus’ prayer today as both gift and challenge side by side? How does that change our life together?