Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. -Romans 12:14-16
This verse is thematic of what we call Christian unity: peace, harmony, listening to one another, and so on. But if this is the totality of what it means to be a unity of Christians, this is not different than any other community that treats itself with manners (cf. Lk. 6:32-34; Mt. 5:46). Don’t get me wrong. Harmony, respect, and other virtues are part of a healthy community, but not the totality. Where’s the apostolic zeal, where’s the heart for evangelization? Have we not seen for ourselves and believed that Jesus truly is the Son of God?
On a human level, Christian unity should provide the persons involved a sense of solidarity or togetherness (as one of my friends put it). Christian unity should provide a source of encouragement and affirmation. It should be a place where one can rest and be not afraid to be a little more honest, open, and vulnerable. This semi-internal dimension of Christian community is too often overlooked. Instead, I have seen it substituted with nice ideals that do not call any brother out of his darkness. The nice ideals become a glass ceiling, an impediment and stumbling block to good and healthy honesty. In the falsifying of Christian unity, I have seen brothers relationally suffocate (yes, I made up that phrase).
What I mean by it is, since one “goes out” into the world feeling like a stranger, that same person has a need to “come home” and be received by his brethren or family. Well, this pretty-talk of Christian unity has stifled that which it intends to do: bring forth life, joyful life. This is what I mean by relational suffocation, when a brother can go nowhere to identify or relate to other people. Did the Son of Man have anywhere to lay his head? Quote that verse and make the situation better, right?
How dare we deny the truth of human nature! We are made from relationships (mom and dad). We are born into relationship (family). We identify as relationship (son and daughter, brother and sister). You know what Blessed Mother Teresa is attributed with saying?
If we have no peace, it is because we forget we belong to each other.
I’m not saying to worship one another. I am saying that our human nature speaks to a real and genuine and therefore good need that each of us have. This is natural. It is part of our nature. One philosopher writes that, to sin is to go against the nature of a thing (I think it’s Aquinas). Part of our falling short of the glory of God is omitting from our minds and hearts this good and edifying part of life. Do you really think you are an island? Do you really perceive your coworker, peer, student, child, or parent as an obstacle to your holiness?
In this fraternal environment, Christians have the potential to work out their own shortcomings. The distinct thing about a Christian unity is why and how we are unified.
…maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. -Ephesians 4:3-6
We are unified in the triune God. Baptism makes us part of the Body of Christ. We are given share in His life. Our unity is necessarily deeper than that of virtue. The unity of Christians is deeper than what we do and how we treat one another. The grace of baptism testifies to this. Virtue is an intrinsic part of this unity (part, not whole). Our actions, affections, and anything else we do must come from what we are. What we do must be for the sake of the glory of God.
From this place of living, there is a greater potential for our work and labor to bear fruit. Jesus himself taught us that he is the vine and we are branches. If we practice this virtue without him, we are deceiving ourselves as Christians.
The power of Christian unity has not yet been actualized or accomplished. Pray with John 17. Look at that deep desire of Jesus coming through the text. That we may be one as he and the Father are, that the world may believe that Jesus is from the Father. In other places we read that we will “do greater works than these.” We read that if we ask we receive. If we who are wicked know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our Father give us the Holy Spirit? That grace is not a nice thing to look at. That grace is what sustains each part of creation in existence. Jesus’ redemption gives us access to this grace. We are his co-workers. Recognize the grace-filled authority of Christians in this world.
Christian unity should empower us. The trust we have between one another should be a witness of the deeper trust we have in the Lord Jesus. St. Paul called the Philippians his crown and joy (4:1). He called the Thessalonians his glory and joy. If Christ redeemed us in the flesh, then our communities, whose members are just as much body and spirit as the apostles, should enliven us and vivify us. We should be able to rejoice in one another. Why? Because of him who brings us together, who saves us, who feeds us, who nourishes us and leads us on the path of life.
Let us pray for a love of God that is greater than community. Let us pray for a love of community that teaches us more deeply to trust in God. For the grace to never forsake the gift of God. For the grace to live a life worthy of the calling we have:
O God, protector of those who hope in you, without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy; grant that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that endure forever. -Taken from 17th Sunday’s Collect