There is a picture in my high school yearbook of our graduating senior class. We are all seated on the floor of the gym. The picture was taken from high up in the bleachers, with a wide angle lens. From the distance you can make out the outline of the number 82. Our bodies positioned together to form a large single image. If you could step into the photograph, however, you might find something else.
You might see the look of eager anticipation on the faces of the basketball players, preparing for the big tournament that night. You could notice the look of relief on the face of the student who had just gotten her final test back and would be graduating with straight A’s. In the back corner you might notice the tired look on someone’s face. Someone who had lost his parents in a car accident, who had been up late working at a body shop to earn his keep. If you looked real hard you could also see the anxious look of a young woman who found out last week she was pregnant, now plunged into a world of adult decisions.
You could see this if you step into the photograph. As it is, you can only make out the number 82, our identities held together in the scope of the camera’s eye.
The letter to the Ephesians speaks of unity. Unity is more than just an abstract concept, but a tangible expression of God’s Spirit living within and among us. The unity spoken of here is more than just the unity of a small band of folks who look and think and act alike. This unity in Christ breaks through the barriers we create out of our differences, leading us to a larger unity with all creation. This unity in Christ makes it possible for all to become fellow heirs, member of the same body, sharers in the promises of God.
Ephesians is a very upbeat letter. Unlike other letters in the Bible that seem written to respond to a particular conflict or struggle, Ephesians lays out some of the basics, the foundations of the Christian faith that are just as true now as they were then. These basics would have been familiar to the readers of this letter, many of the ideas being found in other letters of Paul. In Ephesians, however, these ideas and images are woven together that future generations might know the gospel even as Paul proclaimed it in his time, that the good news might give shape to their lives in faith.
Among these basics is the idea of unity. The early Christian church faced pressures to split apart. Varying groups and individuals within the faith community focused on different aspects of the faith, vied for power, and clung to competing loyalties. Many difficult questions were raised, “Do you have to first become a Jew to be a Christian?” “How do we care for the needs of our own and still reach out to others?” “Who among the apostles are we to listen to?”
It is important to remember that unity does not mean uniformity. We are not a body of members who all look and think and act alike. This is not our calling. This is made clear in the passage that immediately follows in Ephesians which talks about the diversity of gifts given to God’s people for the good of the body. Thank God we are not all eyes or noses, as it says elsewhere in the Bible, for “where would be the hearings?” Unity is not sameness, but persons with different gifts working together for the common good of the body.
Unity is easier to see from a distance, but it does not so much impact us on a personal level. The good news is that God is not only watch us from a distance. In Christ, God has become intimately involved in our experience. Involved in the messiness of our lives. Not just watching from a distance, where troubles and worries seem insignificant, but bound to our hearts, within our relationships where we might experience new hope in the midst of despair. Light in the middle of darkness.