And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Jesus prays for his disciples as he prepares for the ordeal of Calvary and the final hour is upon him. Despite the intensity of the moment his prayer is calm and confident, even as he asks the Father for an apparent impossibility – that they may be one.
He asks that they may be brought to perfection. Is any human creature perfectible? I cannot conceive of a perfect human being. I have heard of perfect statues like Michelangelo’s Pieta and Raphael’s David. I have heard music played flawlessly. There are mathematical formulas which resemble the ideal but a formula is only an abstraction, a fascinating figment of the imagination.
But its hard to conceive of a perfect human being, and the perfect community is even more difficult. Were I to join a perfect community it wouldn’t be after I joined it!
Jesus can speak of perfection because he is of God. We see a glorious perfection in his willing approach and obedient submission to crucifixion. If we experience only dread in the prospect of agony and death, he sees the doorway to communion with the Father.
Beyond that door Jesus sees the Communion of the Saints; they have been brought to perfection as one. This is beyond our human capacity but, as Gabriel assured the Virgin, nothing is impossible with God.
Perhaps this is why there is so much violence in Jewish and Christian imagery. A lot of peace-loving people object to that imagery; they suppose that the way of communion is from peaceful to more peaceful, and there is no place for violence. Certainly that should be our strategy but the goal is ultimately unattainable. We're not going to get there gradually or incrementally. Every age and every culture is afflicted in some manner with violence and we cannot produce among us a perfect communion.
And so we imagine some kind of shattering violence which must finally rush us beyond our capacities. It will be a rescue, a salvation which falls upon us when we hear a thunderous war cry, “Be still and know that I am God, supreme among nations, supreme on the earth!” Angels will sound trumpets – which were used to signal movements over the din of battle long before musicians introduced them to the symphony hall – to gather the nations to Armageddon. The irony of this peaceful violence which creates the Communion of the Saints resembles that of his beautiful crucifixion by which we are saved.
I don't mean to say that we should be violent, despite the violence of our imagery and our history. There may be some things accomplished with violence but the Kingdom of God is not one of them. What I mean is more illusive and if I knew how to say it it would not be so mysterious. As we contemplate the Cross of Jesus Christ we seem to be staring at horror and unspeakable violence; but we are actually seeing perfect love, peace and solidarity with him. It is fascinating and beautiful and deeply satisfying. It is so enchanting that we readily take up our own crosses and follow him.
Because he is the Son of God, Jesus’ prayer for the perfect communion of his disciples cannot be frustrated. For:
…just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it.