The Saturday following Good Friday is a strange time. For the Disciples it was a time of trepidation and despair. Their Lord had died, and though He had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they seem to have forgotten or doubted that prophecy.
The brutality with which Christ had been persecuted, prosecuted, tortured, and executed gave them all legitimate fear that they too would be eliminated to prevent the spread of Messianism. Simon Peter, that bold, fiery, and dedicated follower of Jesus had denied Him on the night of the address. The Gospels do not present Peter as close to the Cross – perhaps he was watching from a distance on the day of the Crucifixion.
Although God was watching over them, the Disciples may have felt, gathered together in their hiding place, the door locked, that all they had now was each other. Even after the resurrection, they went back together to Galilee, perhaps still uncertain about what they had seen or what the future held.
These same Disciples had arguments and discussions among themselves, both during Christ’s earthly ministry and after the Ascension. The Church continues to have discussions and divisions today – but it also has seen and does see moments of unity. On the night of His betrayal, Christ prayed that His followers would be one in heart and mind.
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. 1And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
The Apostle Paul beseeched the Philippians in similar terms.
Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Christ spoke of the unity that He would create between Jew and Gentile, making them into one people of God.
1And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
Paul also believed in the unity between Jew and Gentile, but expressed it in different language.
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?Romans 11:17-24
Richard Barker at his blog recently shared a word from Leisa Ebere that touched on the matter of Christian unity – among other things. Yesterday I attended an inter-denominational Good Friday service, which has been held in my area for a long number of years. The venue this year was a URC church, and they fielded the readers and preacher. Also present was the Baptist congregation that I attend and members of the local Anglican church. The service had liturgical elements taken from the URC’s service book, but there was also a level of informality commensurate with the congregational ethos of the Baptists. The venue, readers, and speaker vary from year to year. My own pastor has given sermons and led services in the past, as has the vicar of the local Anglican church.
Unity was mentioned in the service and it reminded me of the word I had read at Richard’s blog. True Christians can unite around the Cross. Though we may vary in the interpretation of passages of Scripture and the application of its lessons to our lives, we still have much in common across the denominations, and we must not lose sight of that. We all agree that salvation would be impossible without the work of Christ and God’s grace. We all agree that the one true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who took on flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary as Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah. We believe that Jesus Christ will return one day and that those who faithfully follow Him will be resurrected to life; the damned to eternal torment.
As we contemplate the work of Christ this Easter weekend, and as we enjoy some rest and time with relatives, let us spare a thought for our wider Christian family, including the persecuted Church. Perhaps take a moment to think about times when Christians from other denominations have shown you the love of Christ and times when you have done the same for them.
Have a blessed Easter. Maranatha!