"... so that they may be one as we are one." (Jesus, John 17:11)
While reflecting on last Sunday's Gospel passage (John 17:1-11) it occurred to me that unity and union, with God and with each other, is costly. And in the same way that grace is costly - although humans have a tendency to seek the cheap version - so too unity has its costly and cheap versions. The union Jesus looks toward comes at the cost of his life. It is costly, and our discipleship of him is costly, just as the unity in Christ we seek is costly.
|Iain McKillop, Jesus' High Priestly Prayer in|
John 17, from a series of 7 paintings
focusing on that last night and Gethsemane.
Churches are called beyond this kind of tribalism (both the mutual back-slapping society and the attack-dog gang are tribalistic). Jesus reminds us of the cost of unity (see John 11:45-53) but also its provisionality. It is because the work of the Spirit in uniting the human race is not yet complete that churches are asked to hold themselves open to including the outsider, and work to make difference a foundation of their community.
This is exactly why unity is costly. Unity grounded in diversity changes the community as it stands, and makes the life of that community less comfortable. When the current unity of a congregation is considered provisional it means that congregation is saying that it expects, even wants, its current identity to change. New people will mean a new identity, both for the existing members of the community and those joining it, requiring both some personal and group dying.
When unity and its cost is understood like this much of the New Testament focus on Christian disunity (e.g see 1Cor 1:10-31; chapters 5-8; 11:17-34; chapters 12-14) and the confusion to identity that new members (Gentiles) bring (to faithful Jewish Christians, see the Gospel of Matthew; Acts 15:1-21; Galatians 2:11-14) becomes understandable. Whether it comes through the personal call to die with Christ or a community's call to die to its current secure identity, union in Christ comes at a cost and humans tend to resist that call.