RESEARCH

The Journey through Community to Communion

Ute Carkner / Monday, August 2, 2021

 

The Journey through Community to Communion: That They May Become One

“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23 ESV)

Jesus’ prayer was rooted in the very heart of God. For 2,000 years, it has been a journey for billions of becoming like Christ—in communion with God. We continue in this noble quest, listening to God’s Spirit, asking him where we are in the process and to call us into deeper communion.

Human unity naturally operates within the context of community—one-anotherness. Made in the image of God, we sense intuitively a feeling of solidarity. We are also able to gain insight into what God as Trinity is like. The journey toward oneness is sometimes long and arduous, but also exciting and full of surprises. Many details, longings and moments of fulfillment emerge as we reflect and give thanks.

Community Discovery in My Family Story

As an only child (born of European immigrants), the absence of competition for their attention made simple living in love and unity with my parents. It was a sweet treasure.

The first shock came at age seven as my parents decided to introduce me to my European relatives—the paternal side of the family. It was the beginning of numerous introductions to our extended family, in what was then known as West Germany and eventually in the East. This was also their initial return to Germany since 1953, when they fled Communist East Germany as newlyweds. I was in awe meeting all these new relations as a young, naïve Canadian schoolgirl.

I found myself sitting around a table with my parents, my father’s two sisters and a brother-in-law and my three cousins. I studied their features, manner and speech for a familiar resemblance and ring.

The adults would exchange pre- and post-war stories. There was weeping from loss mixed with robust laughter.

My first tense political experience came as my Mom and I were granted visas to return to the soil from which they fled—the former German Democratic Republic (DDR). The imposing and hostile Berlin Wall was an open display of ‘a great divide’ and was rife with tension of dark rain clouds, guards and dogs.

My father never crossed into the East. This journey was an opportunity to bridge thousands of miles between our families on my maternal side.

Through the visits by plane and train since, alienation faded into love, joy and kind community. Our family was now united due to the removal of this political barrier. East and West were one Germany. This has had a profound impacted on me.

Spiritual Longing (Sehnsucht)

One dear, hospitable aunt in the East was most curious and always searching for information about life beyond the Wall.

Anneliese posed the question about my experience of community after a sabbatical year of travel: “Ute, how could you have come to know all those strangers that you speak about from various countries? How is it that you were invited into their homes, their lives, met their children, ate and supped with them? Those conversations provided such an education. How is this possible?”

My aunt’s curiosity was bursting with longing for the kind of communion that was possible among God’s people. People even in a small village where my relatives lived were taught to be suspicious of each other during the Communist era—the opposite of unity.

Fullness of Communion is Costly and Humbling

John 17: 20-23 reflects Jesus’ heart for the power of communion between heaven and earth: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me. That they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” ESV

This section of Jesus’ prayer was illumined by the Spirit while engaged with a Lutheran youth ministry team to India. As a team of eight students, we were asked to host four services that Easter Sunday. I lead one of these services.

Witnessing the stark diversity in India and speaking out of this text, a chorus began to rise from within the heart and soul of our team: “That we may be one… that we may be one. Jesus is praying that we may be one.”

We sang this daily throughout our eye-opening subcontinent tour at each venue. I came to a deeper conviction - because Christ’s actions are always consistent with the will of his Father, his prayer will reach its fulfilment. He himself has introduced us to the way of unity by praying us into the inter-relationships within the members of the Trinity. Our union with Christ, when deep and real, is a taste of his union with the Father. This relationship within the Trinity is a model of human communion, showing it to be possible.

Jesus has revealed to us this perfect oneness.

Beyond our clan or tribe, we have this God-given reality. The desire for unity, demonstrated by years of tears of repentance then the world witnessed the dissipation of enmity and the historical 1989 deconstruction of the Berlin Wall.

After 44 years of hostility between political powers there came a new hope that future sources of enmity will too, be annulled and invisible walls deconstructed.

We long to mature in our understanding of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:14-16: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing hostility.”  ESV

Paul was making reference to Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ. And so also, there is work being done in our unprecedented times regarding repentance and reconciliation.

On the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, we paused dumbstruck to view multiple toys, shoes and boots to represent Indigenous children lost in a dark period of Canadian history, unmarked graves of precious children made in God’s image. We felt the tears of the angels. We are responsible and we must remember them.

Let us let go of living in suspicion and enmity, and enter a life of contrition and repentance.

This is the way to the heart of God and through our hearts to the world. This trajectory moves us towards a credible witness, our unity as the body of Christ commends the gospel to a divided world.

As Michael Cassidy of African Enterprise states in his book: The Church Jesus Prayed For, “However, defaced or damaged the image is in another, it is never to be diminished and can never be destroyed.”

May we live genuinely and proactive lives. The gate of repentance toward mature unity and communion has been opened by way of the incarnation and the cross.


Ute Carkner is a Minister of Spiritual Formation & Intercession at Outreach Canada. When she was a kid, Ute wanted to be a detective and as she grew into her teen years, she wanted to be a missionary nurse! One of Ute’s favourite part of her role is walking or sitting in communion with one another in the presence of our Holy God – words or no words. Anyone who knows Ute, knows she is passionate about prayer. She facilitates and participates in many prayer initiatives. One of Ute’s favourite verses is found in John 17:21 “I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” 


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