From the Gospel this morning:

.   .   .   that they may be one, even as we are one.

This morning I intend to preach a very theological sermon. Now don’t worry. It’s going to be brief.  Not lengthy, not even lofty.  But it is going to be very theological, and so – if only for a few minutes – I want you to think with me.

Consider another passage from St. John:

The glory which Thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one
even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may be perfectly one,
so that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them
even as Thou hast loved me.

 Holy Scripture teaches us that we are created in the image of God. That is our supreme dignity as human beings. That is why many of the ancient Fathers of the Church teach that humanity may be said to be the “crown,” the summit of God’s creation. That is how we were made – in the image of God.  It is how we are, and it is the basis of how we act within ourselves, among ourselves, and in the world around us.

Theologians have “rung the changes,” so to speak, on this phrase again and again, and “Image of God” has been interpreted in a number of ways by Christian thinkers. Some have pointed to our ability to reason and think as the image within – for God is surely the supreme Reason and Mind behind all things.  Our thinking and reason is an image of this.

Others have singled out the human ability to create: to invent things that have never been and to bring them into being, for God is the Creator, who, as Scripture teaches, “calls into being the things that are not.” And so, that we do this also is, some say, God’s image in us. Our ability is a reflection of His supreme creative power.

Others still go further and deeper in their speculations and see God’s image as our being as persons. You and I have our existence as persons, unique individuals. Unlike the rest of creation, we are aware of ourselves (we are self-conscious) and we determine ourselves. The laws of nature, provide a framework for our being and doing, but within that framework we have the power of will, and our wills to a certain extent, are free.  God’s intention in our creation was that we be persons. A reflection, an image of Himself, the Supreme Person/Persons. Who is aware of Himself absolutely.  Who determines Himself absolutely.  Who is absolutely free, and who creates in that freedom.  And who is the Supreme Reason behind all things.  God is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end – the source, the meaning, and the fulfillment of all that is. God is supremely person. To use fancy, technical language, person is the fundamental ontological concept that one may use to describe Him. And you and I as persons are images, reflections of God’s personhood.

In the Gospel Jesus prays for His disciples to God the Father “that they may be one, even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one.” Earlier he said to them “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me.  I am the Vine, you are the branches.”  Jesus here is talking about what one might call “indwelling,” and it all sounds very mysterious, doesn’t it ? “I in them and Thou in me.” Sounds mysterious until we realize that indwelling on the human level is not mysterious at all, but is one of the crucial ways that human persons are and act.

Have you ever had a friend, a loved one, a spouse, a soul-mate, whose life somehow got entangled with yours and your life with theirs?  That is indwelling: two human lives somehow mixed up together. And the supreme moment of friendship or love is the question and the answer: “Love you? I am you.”  

Have you ever worked together with other people on a project, and the common effort formed a community – a com-unity, communion. That too is indwelling.

At a concert some years ago, I saw a woman play a cello, and before my eyes the distinction between the two disappeared. I was looking at two things – a woman and a cello – but also not a woman and a cello – but one thing.  The woman and the cello and the music indwelt one another.  Or one might say that the music was the means and medium of the indwelling.  That is why great art is always about indwelling.  The artist and the art become one.  That is why art produced for profit, cynical art, is so bad and disappointing.  That is why naive art, primitive art can be great and moving, though its technical mastery is meagre.  That is why art can arise out of a community but can never be produced by a committee.  It is the indwelling of artist and art that make the critical difference.

Our human ability to indwell is an image of the Divine Indwelling. In two weeks we shall celebrate the Holy Trinity, and what that doctrine tells us is that indwelling is the being of God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, three persons, indwell each other, and in their indwelling the divine persons are perfectly one and perfectly three.  Your and my ability to indwell is, I think, an image in us of the Triune Being of God.

Next week we shall celebrate the Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit who indwells the Church and by that gift enables the members of the Church to indwell one another.  That is why Jesus prays so ardently and so often that his disciples and those who follow them be one.  That is why their oneness, their unity will be a sign to the world “that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.”  Their unity shows that the Holy Spirit indwells them and gives them the power to indwell one another.  Their unity is a sign that the work of Christ – His ministry of preaching and healing, His death and resurrection – has overcome sin, the original disunity, and has overcome death, sin’s hateful sacrament.

Last Thursday, good brothers and sisters, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension – Jesus is exalted to His Father.  His triumph on earth is made an eternal triumph in heaven.  But in His Ascension He is not taken away – Jesus isn’t gone.  His promise was to be with His Church, and through the power of the Holy Spirit He is with His Church.  He indwells his Church which is his Body, his presence on earth.

*     *     *     *     *

Yesterday morning I led a First Communion class for two of the Advent’s youngest members.  It is one of my favorite things to do as a priest.  I love to instruct young people on the meaning of Holy Communion as they are preparing to receive it for the first time.  I didn’t use the word.  It’s a bit too complicated.  But I talked to them a lot about indwelling.  Jesus who is in the bread and the wine of the Mass.  We who are in Jesus when we receive the bread and the wine of the Mass.  We who become one with one another when we share in that sacred meal.

Let me end with a passage from one of the ancient fathers of the Church, Clement of Alexandria. In fact, some consider him Christianity’s first theologian. Clement is talking about the same thing that I did when I spoke to the children, but, of course, he puts it much better.  Clement sees the Mass as the dynamic which results in indwelling and Church.

By His own wisdom and the Father’s counsel, Christ devised a way of bringing us all together and blending us into a unity with God and one another, even though the differences between us give us each in body and in soul a separate identity. For in Holy Communion He blesses with one body, which is His own, those who believe in Him, and makes them one body with Himself and one another. Who could separate those who are united to Christ through that one sacred body? Or destroy their true union with one another. If we all share one bread we all become one body, for Christ cannot be divided.

 So it is that the Church is the Body of Christ and we are its members. For since we are all united to Christ through His sacred body, having received that one indivisible body into our own, our members are not our own but His. 

 Once again from St. John:

The glory which Thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one
even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may be perfectly one,
so that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them
even as Thou hast loved me.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email