Rev. Lee Woofenden
of Holy Communion
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 3, 1996
28:1-14 If you obey the Lord your God
John 17:13-26 So that they may be one, as we are one
The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine #210-213 The
glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may
be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may
become completely one. (John 17:22, 23)
passage continues to amaze me.
our church, we give special significance to Jesus' words earlier
in the Gospel of John when he says "I and the Father are
one." (John 10:30) We do not separate God into different
"persons" of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as many
other Christian churches do. Rather, we see these three as
different parts of the one and only divine person--the Lord God
Jesus Christ. When Jesus says, "I and the Father are
one," we think, "Of course. Just the way my body and
soul make one person." This all makes perfect sense.
then Jesus throws a wrench in the works. He says that he has
given us the glory that the Father has given him, so that
we may all be one in the same way the Father and Son--and the
Holy Spirit also--are one. How can we be one with the Lord in
the same way the Lord's own divine soul and body are one? How
can Jesus be in us just as the Father is in him? It seems almost
blasphemous to presume that we would have the same
relationship--the same oneness--with the Lord that the Lord has
within himself. Yet it was the Lord himself who said these
is an especially appropriate issue to explore this morning, as
we approach the Lord's table for holy communion. Our very word
"communion" comes from a Latin word whose root means
to bind together. If we follow this meaning, when we take
communion we are somehow being joined together. But with whom,
course, communion is a . . . well . . . communal thing. We do
not do it alone in our rooms. Rather, we come together as a
faith community to celebrate the Lord's supper together. In
this, it is similar to a family meal. In our families we
traditionally have at least one meal each day together--though
if it is a particularly busy family, our gathering around the
dinner table may take place only once or twice a week. If the
family is a happy one, our times together at the supper table do
bring us closer together with our children, our parents, our
brothers and sisters, and other friends and family members who
share meals with us. In the case of my own family when I was
growing up, it was quite an event to have all ten of us around
our big, round table every evening for supper!
church is also a kind of family. However, though we often share
our church with members of our biological family, that is not
the primary bond that holds a church family together. The church
is not based on material relationships, but on spiritual ones.
We share a church with each other because we share a common
faith with each other. Each of us comes to this church, not only
because many of us have relatives here, but because we wish to
approach the Lord with others who share our belief that God is
one, and is the Lord Jesus Christ. We wish to share the Holy
Supper with others who see deeper levels of spiritual meaning in
the bread and wine that we take into our bodies. We wish to
share our church with others who believe that the Lord's
salvation is available to all who will live in the best way they
know how, according to their own beliefs.
we are out in the world, we find that many people do not share
these beliefs with us. Some believe that only those who belong
to their church are saved. Some believe that the bread and wine
of communion represent the body and blood of Christ given in a
very literal way--in the crucifixion--to satisfy the justice of
an angry Father who demands punishment for his wayward children.
Others have still different beliefs that do not agree with our
own. Some do not believe in God at all--and may ridicule those
who do. Others are simply not interested in religion, nor in
thinking deeply about life and its meaning. While the world may
not hate us, the world is often indifferent--and occasionally
hostile--to the beliefs that we hold dear. When we come together
at this church, we can feel a oneness of faith with each other
that we cannot find anywhere else.
as wonderful as this faith connection with each other is, Jesus'
words in John lead us to look for an even deeper kind of
oneness. He said that we would be one with him in the same way
he is one with the Father. Completely one. What could this
oneness be? What is the oneness that Jesus had with the
Father--with the divine being that is the center and the creator
of the universe?
oneness has to do, not just with beliefs, but with love. To
complete the sentence in our text from John, Jesus says, ".
. . that they may become completely one, so that the world may
know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have
loved me." (John 17:23) Our oneness with the Lord has more
to do with a sharing of love than with a sharing of beliefs.
we think about it, it is hard to say that the Lord even has
"beliefs" in the way that we do. We grasp a small bit
of the truth as seen reflected in the Bible, our church's
teachings, and many other sources of understanding here on
earth. But the Lord is universal truth. The Lord does not
have to believe in anything because the Lord is
everything good and true that could possibly be worthy of
belief. While we share beliefs with each other, and hope that
our beliefs approach the divine truth that is the Lord, it is
love that first and foremost binds us together with the Lord.
is also what binds us most closely to each other. As members of
the same church, we do share beliefs with each other, and those
beliefs do bring us together. But our togetherness does not
become genuine oneness unless we do more than simply share a
common faith. It is when we love and care for each other that we
begin to feel a real and close human connection that goes beyond
our heads to our hearts. We can be a church community when we
love each other and show our love by the way we treat each
other. When we share our joys and sorrows with each other. When
we care for each other in our times of pain. When we come
together to celebrate our festivals and holidays. When we work
with each other on the many and varied activities of the church.
These are the things that really make us one.
is the same oneness that the Jesus we know and worship has with
the invisible divine Father within. It is the oneness of love
Lord offers us this same oneness. It is a oneness we achieve,
not by merely believing and sharing our beliefs, but by acting
on those beliefs and showing them through our love for each
other. The statement of faith that we say together each week
ends with the words, ". . . they are saved who believe in
him, and keep the commandments of his Word. This is his
commandment: that we love one another, as he hath loved
love for each other is directly connected with keeping the
Lord's commandments. When we are following the Lord's teachings,
we are loving each other, because that is what the Lord's
teachings are all about: how to love each other and not hurt
each other. Only when we do this can the Lord can show us his
course, the Lord always loves us, no matter what we do, good or
bad. But when we do not love each other, we reject the Lord's
love, which means that we cannot feel it.
the other hand, when we do love each other, the Lord can come
into our lives in ways stronger than we could have ever
imagined. In our reading from Deuteronomy, the Lord makes many
promises to the children of Israel if they will only obey him
and keep his commandments. Spiritually, these are the same
promises the Lord makes to us if we will keep his commandments.
Whatever our material circumstances, he will bless us with a
rich and full spiritual life, with deep and satisfying
friendships, and with a sense of love and of purpose in our
life. In other words, the Lord will bless us with a deep and
spiritual oneness with himself and with each other.
is the oneness that the Lord has within himself. It is the same
oneness that he wishes us to have in him, and with each other,
so that we may be completely one--with the Lord's love within
us, and at the center of all our relationships with each other.
It is the oneness of mutual love and understanding. Today we
celebrate these gifts from the Lord by gathering together to eat
the bread and drink the wine of holy communion. Amen.
Great Thou Art