"And this is eternal life," Jesus prays, "that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
During summer 2007, I lived in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door, and also where (ironically) he is buried. While there, I asked people these questions: What does the gospel of Jesus Christ look like? What does it sound like? I wanted to understand how they see Jesus Christ — for us.
These questions are difficult ones at any given point in time and place since God's presence and work among us is often so hidden. At the time I asked these questions in Wittenberg, there was a 25 percent unemployment rate in the region. It was common for people to walk down sidewalks and look into windows that once had given glimpses of bustling businesses and now showed only a sign in their windows that read "For Rent."
Walking down one of those streets with a lifelong resident of a nearby village, I asked the same two questions I had asked others. His answers echoed that of so many others with whom I had spoken. "The gospel looks and sounds like reconciliation," he said.
"Who needs to be reconciled with whom?" I asked.
"People need to reconcile with God. We need to reconcile with one another. This is no easy task," my new friend said.
After saying farewell to everyone under the sun, Jesus in this week's Gospel reading prays to God one final time. (Scholars point out that Jesus doesn't pray in the Garden of Gethsemane in John's Gospel.) In this text, we hear Jesus pray for reconciliation between God and humanity on the one hand, and for reconciliation between believers on the other.
Reconciliation is difficult. Seeking reconciliation between one another can be an exercise in frustration. Trying to reconcile with God may seem impossible. Reconciliation often ends up being understood as an ideal of the Christian faith.
Yet, Jesus not only prays for reconciliation but makes it happen between one another, as well as between God and us. Jesus neither coerces nor chides us into it. Instead, Jesus makes reconciliation happen in an odd and wonderful way. Jesus becomes our reconciliation with God and one another through his death and resurrection for us. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been reconciled with God and set loose to do the difficult work of reconciling with one another.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers