When tragedy strikes, we are often left in a position where we do not know what to do. There is no action we can take to immediately improve the situation, no maneuvering on our part to alleviate the pain. Truth be told, it can be terrifying to be left so vulnerable and exposed. It may be the tragedy is a terrible loss of one we love, and with it all the disturbing questions of how we are to carry on, how we are to make sense of the world, how do we find comfort in the days that unfold? Or it could be hearing the incoming news of yet another tragic mass shooting in our country. I do not know about you, but every time I listened to the news last Tuesday things just got worse. From active shooter and possible casualties to fourteen confirmed dead, to nineteen children and two adults. I did not know what to do with that information. Was there some action to take, some response that was crucial to carry out? To be honest, I sort of just went about my day as if nothing had changed, though I did find myself from time to time turning to our Lord in prayer. It was prayer for the families receiving the worst possible news, prayer for our country, prayer for my own children.
Then like many of you I watched the news conferences and the various politicians stepping forward to give updates and information about how such a tragedy could happen. Over and again, I heard a passionate speech calling for real action. No more thoughts and prayers, they would say. We need to do something. Prayer was fine and all, but it did not seem to be doing any good, so the call was for something more. They wanted something definitive, some action that would protect our children, make our schools safe, and end the senseless bloodshed. Prayer was not going to do that. Perhaps they are right, but prayer is not nothing. In fact, it is something crucial. It is an invitation to speak to our Father in Heaven, to have an audience with the Creator of all things, and there is something powerful about that.
In John 17 we find our Lord, on the night in which He was betrayed, in prayer. In fact, if you look this chapter up in your Bibles it is usually titled “The High Priestly Prayer.” That is, it has all the characteristics of a prayer of intercession made by a high priest for the people of God. In this instance the high priest is none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We get to listen-in as He prays to our Father for His disciples, which, by the way, includes you and me, those who believe in His Word. I have often wondered how it is Jesus prays. Like, does He pray the way you and I pray? I mean He prays for unity among His followers, He prays we see His glory and know the love of the Father, but do you think He prays knowing the whole time we are going to mess all this up? Just why is it that He prays? And why does John make sure to record this prayer for us?
In part, I think that by overhearing Jesus’ prayer we are given a glimpse into the will of the Son of God for us. We see His desire for His followers. So, in this way, His prayer is not that different from the ones we have, especially when faced with tragedy. His heart pours out for the terrible tragedy of sin which has torn and ripped apart the world. He knows there will be opposition, real and powerful detractors to the truth He proclaims. So, He prays for those who have received His Word. He prays that the truth of the Word continues to sanctify them, lead, and guide them to eternal life. And He prays not only for those who were gathered with Him at that time but for all those who will listen to the Word they proclaim. He prays for the Church, for you and me, and His desire is for unity. He says, “That they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me.”
Perhaps, in a way, we can say that at the core of much of our trouble, much of our heartache and suffering is rooted in disunity. It is a disunity of fellowship, disunity of spirit, disunity in our goals and intentions. For example, disunity in families leave young men to grow up without fathers or even positive father figures. Rudderless and reaching they are left alone in the disunity of a society which would rather assign blame and claim virtue in the failure of others then offer real help. This allows the hurting and broken to go unchecked, unloved, and unforgiven. Alone and angry the tragedy which explodes terrifies us all. So, perhaps we learn from our Lord to pray for unity, to pray for healing, for hope, for forgiveness. After all we know from our own personal tragedies, our own personal stories of loss and pain how the worst feeling is that we are alone in the pain, that no one understands, no one can relate, no one can then speak of hope and comfort and the promise of joy in the future. Disunity locks us into ourselves with no outside voice to break us out of our nightmare.
As a result, we clamor for unity. We desire to do something. Like the politicians and the celebrities who say, “Enough with your thoughts and prayers. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to do something, to come together and do something that will change things.” We turn to all the things we can control for an answer. We turn to the laws and regulations of mankind. We turn to organizing resources around organizations which might be able to provide real help. We build our alliances based on our ideology and we get to work… for a while. I mean, we can do really well. We can enact actual, positive change, but the promotion of disunity never ceases in our midst. Even our most righteous efforts for the good of society can be consumed by selfishness and the desire for power. Our unity must be rooted in something greater than the things below us. Real unity, lasting unity is rooted in the things above, the eternal things, the things we aspire toward. And as our Lord prays for us, for our disunity, He prays that we might be united in His Word. The Word is the foundation for our life together.
To be united in the Word is not a static thing. See, it is not a matter of simply reading the Bible and all of us saying, “Yeah, sure that sounds good. Let’s make our stand there.” That is not the creation of the unity. The unity comes from the ongoing confession of the truth. The unity comes from the journey we embark on as we confess and struggle with the Word of God in the living of our lives. The Word of God then acts as a guide for our lives, a guide which not only brings us near to our Lord but brings us near to each other. We are not simply made one, but we become one. We become united in the endeavor of living out our faith. It is this life of faith, this life lived in and among one another that our Lord prays for.
Of course, there is a certain separating out from the world in this uniting on the Word of God. Jesus prays, “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know You, I know You, and these know that You have sent Me. I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” The love which binds the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit binds you to me and us together. So, it creates a real sanctuary, a fellowship, separated from the world of unbelievers and standing on the foundation of the Word, a Word that declares you righteous in the blood of the Lamb.
But this creation of the Word, this household of the faithful, is not to be kept hidden away. It is from here, from this journey and struggle with the Word that we become one. We become one in order to be a blessing to others. Perhaps you cannot stop the next school shooting. Perhaps you cannot end violence and the growing sense of cultural despair which promotes it. But from this place of unity you can love, you can have compassion, and you can forgive as you have been forgiven. This is why you should not underestimate this gift you have been given. You are the forgiven, the baptized, the holy ones of God, and you can bring that love to others. Perhaps you take some time to listen to those who are hurting. Maybe you offer that long overdue hug, the embrace which tells them the darkness will not go on forever. Who knows, you could be the voice of forgiveness they never thought possible. You could be the entrance into a unity they never knew.