In days dominated by the ugly experience of isolation behind closed front doors to try to flatten the death curve, Easter crashes gloriously in. Not only is it the time when, on our daily exercise, we see new life bursting out all over to remind us that death itself is destroyed by resurrection, but Easter also offers an extraordinary answer to isolation.
As Jesus approached the appointed time of death and glory, he prayed for all Christians. In John 17, we hear him ask the Father that his cross would smash isolation forever, as he prays that all his scattered people would be one.
First, Jesus prays for us to be one like the Father and the Son are one (John 17:20-21). Different persons cannot be more one than this, so this is an ambitious agenda for human beings. In our homes, we may experience the obvious distance from those from whom we are separated, and perhaps an even more painful distance from those with whom we are joined, under the same roof. Christ lays bare his desire for us, poured out in a plea for God to bring us to complete unity.
This means we can expect God’s help in response to Jesus’ prayer! We can expect God to prompt us to send postcards, WhatsApps, phone calls, Easter messages of love and care to those we can’t get physically close to, and we can expect his mighty strength to enable us to draw close within our homes, too. We’ll find, contrary to expectations, that we can choose to get off our high horses and say sorry, that tempers can be restrained, and that forgiveness can come in new ways, and more quickly than before. It doesn’t mean we always will, but that we can, as the Father answers Jesus’ prayer for us.
Second, Jesus prays for us to be one with the Father and the Son – “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). This is extraordinary, but hard to understand. The context suggests a couple of things this means.
It means a unity in knowing God. Because of what Jesus achieved, we have eternal life, which means we know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ,” whom the Father sent (17:3). You and I can all truly know God, and – especially if we listen and learn from each other’s insights into Scripture’s treasures, and are willing to be corrected and helped – we can know him better and better, as all-beautiful, all-powerful, three-in-one creator and redeemer, praising and worshipping and experiencing eternal life in him. How sweet this communion is, just waiting to be explored in prayerful Bible study, and shared with our brothers and sisters around the kitchen table or in those new online small groups we are finding so much better than nothing.
And it means a unity of obeying God. Jesus obeyed perfectly, gloriously finishing the work on earth the Father gave him to do (17:4, cf 19:30). And Jesus has prayed we will be one with God in the same way. Whatever stage we are at in the Christian life, Jesus and the Father are absolutely determined not to give up on the work that they have begun. Jesus’ earthly work is finished, which is why he left earth after the resurrection. Now with the Father, they work in unity to perfect us in united obedience to the three-in-one God. We may feel stuck in sin, but we are not beyond his reach. Is today a bad one? You are still his own, and tomorrow will have fresh mercy and fresh manna, to live again in him and for him. Does loving God and others seem impossible for you? It is – but not for the Father in response to the prayer of his Son!
Whatever trials we experience over Easter, the trials and victory of Jesus have made it possible for us to unite with other Christians, and to unite even with God himself, both sides of the grave. He is not only with us, but drawing us ever closer. Our front doors have not replaced the curtain.