“Jesus' Unity Prayer and COVID-19”Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford
There are few more magnificent scenes in Scripture than John 17. In context, Jesus, on the night of His betrayal, while en route to the garden of Gethsemane, pauses to offer a prayer. Even though He knows that in less than 24 hours, He will die a degrading, shameful death, His concern is not for Himself. It is for His disciples.
As He prays for His ragtag band of followers, knowing full well that all of them will abandon Him before sunrise, He is most concerned that they remain united. Indeed, He asks the Father to make all of His followers in all time one, as He and the Father are one.
Tragically, Jesus wasn’t the only one who knew how important unity among His people would be. The devil knew too, and since the establishment of the church, he has worked tirelessly to divide it. Throughout the record of the first-century church, we see strife over caring for Hellenistic widows, the necessity of circumcision, and plain old personal friction.
Today, the fragmentation of those who claim to be Christians underscores the success of the devil’s work. Every denomination represents a victory for him. Even among those who have remained faithful to the ancient order, conflict and division within and between congregations continues to be a serious problem.
These challenges have only intensified during the pandemic year of 2020. All of us have found ourselves on unfamiliar ground amid a shifting landscape of government regulation, scientific confusion, and political passion. Even though most of us will candidly admit that we have no idea what we’re doing, we still must make decisions: church leaders for churches, and individual Christians for themselves and their families.
Not surprisingly, this confused process has yielded different perspectives and decisions. Some are haunted by the specter of disease stalking through an unwary congregation. They urge great care in assembling and sometimes even the suspension of the assembly altogether. Others fear that the coronavirus has led us to forget our duty to the Lord, and they are suspicious of any deviation from last year’s normal.
When we are afraid, it becomes easy for us to condemn others, and this too has happened. Christians who refuse to wear masks are foolish and unloving. Brethren who choose to worship from home lack faith and maybe were looking for an excuse anyway. Church leaders who curtail or suspend services have fallen for left-wing propaganda. And so on.
In the year 2020, this is not who the Lord’s church needs to be. We need to be the church of John 17:23 instead, the church that is so completely one that in a time as troubled as ours, others can look to us and see in our unity the evidence of Jesus’ divine origin and God’s continuing love. Our judgments may feel so right and true to us, but creating discord in the church over human reasoning can never be anything but sin.
Let us instead heed our Lord’s call to unity, not only in 2020, but in 2021, 2022, and all the years succeeding. He shed His blood to make us one. May we always take care with our actions, our words, and even our thoughts, so that we give full honor both to His prayer and to His sacrifice!