“Union?”

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

John 17:6-19

May 14, 2021, Words By: Kris Rocke, Image By: unknown

Made Flesh

Before we got married, my wife had these words engraved on our wedding ring, “to our dream.” The first time I read them, I wasn’t sure how to respond. So, I just smiled and said something like, “how thoughtful.”

Several years later, on our anniversary, the engraving came up in conversation, and she asked me what I thought of it. When I didn’t have an answer she said, “You act like you don’t even know what our dream is.” She could tell by the way I responded that, in fact, I didn’t. And so, she reminded me, and then it all came back — “intimacy, union, oneness.”

In this week’s text Jesus prays for his disciples. He shares his dream for them. He engraves his words on their hearts. They took a while to sink in. They are still sinking in — that we would be one as he and the Father are one. 

It begs the question. In what way are Jesus and the Father one? 

Jesus reveals to us the possibility of being “one” without being over and against the other. Relationship without rivalry. Unity without uniformity. This is the kind of unity that God enjoys and makes available to us. This is Shalom.

Unfortunately, “the world,” as Jesus calls it, only knows one way of creating unity. The world unites people over and against an enemy-other. Without the enemy-other, our unity falls apart. But that’s not real relationship, and it’s definitely not real intimacy. It’s just the best the “world” can do as Jesus seems to be saying, and this is what he wants to protect us from. 

I realize this may sound heady and abstract, but let’s remember that Jesus uttered these words to good friends when facing imminent death. Jesus’ prayer was anything but an abstraction. It was his dying wish. It was his deepest desire — the thing he wanted most. People facing death don’t utter abstractions. They speak their heart’s desire.

I wonder what this says to a world that is socially fragmenting in a frantic search for a certain kind of unity. Just read the headlines or witness the echo chambers that promise community but really just lead to isolation. Jesus longs for unity, not uniformity. He longs for community that, as Ben McBride says, “builds a shared humanity, that bridges difference so that everyone belongs.” 

If this sounds dreamy and romantic, we have not tasted the Gospel community. True Gospel community is more like a raucous, joy-filled street party than a Martha Stewart tea party. It holds great difference and makes room at the center for the edge dwellers, the one-offs, the misfits. It’s the place where natural enemies gather and undergo together that which they hold in common — their shared humanity. It’s a place of real relationship and real intimacy.

Yes. It’s uncomfortable and awkward and really vulnerable. But it’s full of joy too — the fruit of real belonging that rivalry and scapegoating can’t produce. 

Consider the insights of john a. powell who leads the Othering and Belonging Institute. He said “The human condition is one about belonging. We simply cannot thrive unless we are in relationship…if you’re isolated, the negative health condition is worse than smoking, obesity, high blood pressure — just being isolated.” Perhaps this is what happened to Judas in the passage. He excused himself from the one community that could hold and integrate his difference, even his betrayal.

When we try to create oneness over and against twoness, it leaves us in ever smaller silos that reflect our very small lives back to us. It’s not only what killed Jesus, but it is also killing us.

May we undergo the answer to Jesus’ prayer and learn how to form identity without rivalry — how to be one as Jesus and the Father are one with all creation. How else will our joy be complete? 


“I, you, he, she, we in the garden of mystic lovers, these are not true distinctions.” Rumi

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About The Author

Kris Rocke

Kris Rocke

Tacoma, WA | U.S.

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