Day 1: Our Victorious, Transforming Lord!Jan 18th, 2012 | By Tom Brown | Category: Blog Posts
Each year, Called to Communion takes note of the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” It is an occasion prompted by the World Council of Churches, an occasion to which the Catholic Church gives full-throated support.1 Since Called to Communion is a Catholic website devoted to God’s call to communion, made to all Reformed and Catholic Christians, it is especially fitting that we should take note of the occasion. This year’s theme is, “We will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”2 To kick off the week, I would like briefly to reflect on this message of great hope.
Looking at the landscape of Christian disunity, one could easily despair. As a Reformed man, especially in my early years out of college, I went through my own season of discouragement on account of Christian divisions. I did not understand how such starkly contrary positions existed within what I understood as the ‘Christian body.’ Without denying God’s promises or power, to me the only way to make sense of the landscape seemed to be by whittling away at the definition of Christianity (or “church”) until little or nothing remained but myself and my own interpretation of Scripture.
Now years later, as a Catholic man, I continue to feel sorrow over our divisions. I see unchurched (but seeking) friends and loved ones confused by the division, unsure where to turn to find Truth. The devil has worked a most pernicious scheme over the centuries by playing off of human sin and stirring up this condition.
It is right to recognize our deep divisions, and the grief and damage these divisions cause to eternal souls. It is right to stare honestly at the unpleasant image we see staring back at us in the Christian mirror. But we must not play into Satan’s schemes by forgetting the great hope we have in Christ’s resurrection!
Here, at the start of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, place yourself at the empty tomb. Remember to take on the wonderment of the women standing there where Christ’s body should have been:
And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.3
To the extent we kick up the dust in frustration at Christianity’s failure to be united, the angels’ question is one we should pose to ourselves: Why do you seek the living among the dead? You know that Christ has risen. You know that Christ is victorious over death. Why then do you look despairingly at the Christian body, as if it were the land of the dead? To do so is to sin against hope.
Hope, one of the three theological virtues, “is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God.”4 As God’s people in pursuit of unity, we have every reason to expect divine blessing. He has poured out such perfect love upon His children. If my children despaired each day that their parents were about to divorce and that they would be separated to various foster families — even though they had been given every reason to hope for and expect the contrary — it would be a great insult. How much more then, as God’s children, would we sin against hope to despair at our Victorious Lord’s ability to unify Christians?
With the sin of despair:
man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.5
We must not let collective despair lead us (individually) into this sin. We must believe that our Victorious Lord will provide us help in attaining salvation and forgiveness. But just as despair of the possibility of unity is a sin, so is the misplaced presumption upon God’s almighty power in believing that the unity of some small set of ‘true believers’ is a fait accompli.6
No. Christ is victorious, and yet the hard work of reconciliation remains ahead for us, not to be despaired against nor presumed. While this work is only possible by God’s grace, it is still work — it is real work. Like a family in disunity, we are not served by denying the condition, nor of casting away hope that it can be resolved. Like that family, we must sit in the living room and discuss with open and sincere hearts our disagreements. I would rejoice to have any separated brother into my living room to discuss the issues which divide us. I would rejoice to have my own father discuss the matter frankly with me. Perhaps you would rejoice to have your husband, wife, parent, or child do the same.
For now, I pray that Called to Communion will have something of that living-room feel. Let us be changed here by the victory of our Lord Jesus, touched by hope and willing to work until we are in unity. Only by our unity with each other, and accordingly by our unity with God, will the world be able to see clearly that the Father sent the Son, to see clearly that its hope flows from the Son’s victory over death. (See John 17.)
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58.)