The First Lesson: Acts (16:16-34)
[With Paul and Silas, we came to Philippi of Macedonia, a Roman colony, and] as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
The Response: Psalm 97
1 The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice; *
let the multitude of the isles be glad.
2 Clouds and darkness are round about him, *
righteousness and justice are
the foundations of his throne.
3 A fire goes before him *
and burns up his enemies on every side.
4 His lightnings light up the world; *
the earth sees it and is afraid.
5 The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
6 The heavens declare his righteousness, *
and all the peoples see his glory.
7 Confounded be all who worship carved
images and delight in false gods! *
Bow down before him, all you gods.
8 Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice, *
because of your judgments, O Lord.
9 For you are the Lord, most high over all the earth; *
you are exalted far above all gods.
10 The Lord loves those who hate evil; *
he preserves the lives of his saints
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light has sprung up for the righteous, *
and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, *
and give thanks to his holy Name.
The New Testament: Revelation (22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21)
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
The Gospel: John (17:20-26)
[Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said,] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 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, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
St. John’s version of the gospel is unique in many ways. One of them is his Last Supper narrative. Among the gospels, his is the only account that does not include the so-called “Institution of the Eucharist” scene. That comes only in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Yet, even without it, John’s description of the Last Supper is by far the longest one that we have. It goes on for five full chapters. It includes Jesus’ summary of some of his teachings, words about the coming of the Holy Spirit, and some last instructions to his disciples before his death. Then it concludes with a long prayer, often referred to as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” That, in turn, reaches its climax in today’s reading as Jesus prays for what seems to be his ultimate concern: “that they may all be one.” The unity of all of those who believe in him appears to be his paramount concern. It is the very last thing that he addresses before he goes out to his arrest, suffering, and death.
Unfortunately, the church has often failed to share Jesus’ focus on the importance of that unity. Even at the time that John’s gospel was written, there appear to have been divisions in the early church. In particular, it seems that there was a significant divide between John’s own church community, living probably in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and the group of believers in and around Jerusalem. That split is evident even in the gospels themselves. It’s not hard, for example, to find differences in emphasis, and even in basic beliefs about Jesus, between John’s gospel and the other three; and parts of John’s account attempt to bridge the division between these two early forms of Christian belief and life and to remind members of both parties of their fundamental unity in same risen Lord.
Divisions within the church have continued in various forms throughout the past 2000 years. Some, like the one that John’s gospel reflects, have been over basic beliefs and different interpretations of what it means to be followers of Jesus. Others, such as the one that, almost 500 years ago, resulted in the split between the Church in Rome and the Church in England, had more to do with differing concepts of the church and of who makes decisions for the church. Over the years, still others arose over varying styles of worship and, in more recent decades, over issues of human sexuality and of an equal place for women in the leadership of the church.
But on the local level, on that of individual worshipping communities, other factors have damaged the unity of believers that was so important for Jesus. There have been arguments, for example, about issues such as worship style. There have been differences over changing the type of music in order better to serve the needs of a parish that has changed over the years.
More often than not, divisions have arisen because of conflicts among some of the people within parishes over what are at best secondary issues. They might be over different priorities on repairing or repainting or changing other facets of the church’s building. They might be over issues of who cares for, and who chooses the flowers and shrubs for, the church’s gardens. They might be over how Coffee Hours or special annual events are done. And sometimes, the divisions come simply from personality conflicts that seem naturally to arise among human beings in all different aspects of life.
While we have certainly had, and will continue to have, divisions within our own Anglican Communion, still the fundamental Anglican approach offers some very valuable guidance for dealing with the differences that will inevitably arise. First and foremost, it helps to guard against an arrogance that allows individuals to assert that they, and only they and those who happen to agree with them, have the truth. It recognizes the fact that ultimate truth lies only in God and that it is always something to which we aspire but never, at least in this life, attain. That is the reason that the Episcopal Church, and our sister churches in the Anglican Communion, approach our faith and life, along with important issues of our time, together, collegially. We study, reflect, and pray over those issues, but then strive to discuss them together in a spirit of openness, charity, and mutual respect, recognizing that those who disagree with us might also have a valuable perspective to add to our deliberations. We then endeavor to find some compromise and to live together, sometimes agreeing to disagree with one another while respecting one another as fellow members of one church.
Key to the life of our faith tradition is the assertion that the first and most important thing that we do together is to pray together. That is why we have a Book of Common Prayer. It is one that is formed together and agreed upon together, both by our bishops and by the elected representatives of all the members of the church. Forty years ago this summer, we adopted our current Book of Common Prayer and pledged to follow its forms and spirit in our shared worship. It is in praying together, whether we agree or disagree with one another on exact details of our faith or on the way that we practice it, that we humbly acknowledge our human limitations and allow God to continue transforming us to be, not necessarily what we want to be, but what God wants us to be. We do so, as one of our Collects puts it (BCP, page 214), so that together “we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.”
As we prepare this week to bring this Easter season to its dramatic conclusion on the great Feast of Pentecost, our gospel calls us to renew our focus on Jesus’ ultimate concern: on working for the unity of all believers. It is not a unity that requires uniformity, that insists that we agree with one another on everything, or that demands that we meekly submit to any particular human being’s way of thinking. Rather it is a unity in diversity: one that recognizes and respects our differences, while affirming that together we believe in one God, that we are enlivened by one Spirit, and that we are bound inseparably to one another in one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.