In post-apartheid South Africa, as an entire culture sought healing and health after years of turmoil and racial division and injustice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke with great boldness and clarity, calling an entire society to see the humanity and dignity in the other, famously saying, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” While this sentiment finds native expression in the African philosophy of Ubuntu, Archbishop Tutu was most certainly looking explicitly to the teaching of Jesus and the Biblical vision of unity within diversity, which St. Paul so famously speaks to through the image of a “body.”
It is remarkably easy to build a worldview that is entirely informed and shaped by our personal interests and individualistic impulses and desires. We eat what we want to eat, shop where we want to shop, and play where we want to play. If you don’t fit into the categories that I find interesting or compelling, why should I bother getting to know you or your passions? You do you and I’ll do me, as we say. And while at one level this is a cultural inevitability, as South Africa reminds us, the stakes of division are often much, much higher than fashion or musical preferences.
We must never underestimate the cost of division within the body of Christ. As Jesus reminds us in the High Priestly Prayer, our unity is directly linked to the mission of God and is our testament to the unifying power of God’s love in the face of hatred and division.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).
One of the great joys of serving as a pastor is serving the communion meal to the congregation. In this act, the beautiful diversity of the church is on full display! I am frequently reminded that the church is one of the only places in our entire lives in which such racial, cultural, and economic diversity comes together in a posture of humility and equality. Before the Lord, we are simply sons and daughters, equally loved and cherished by him. A Fortune 500 CEO and a 5th grade student pray the Lord’s Prayer in unison, their voices uniting in petition and praise. A man suffering from severe mental and physical limitations and a woman who is a world-class athlete receive the same bread and drink from the same cup.
We come together, not as individuals who happen to brush shoulders, but as family united together by the same Lord who reminds us that our identity is deeply bound up in our ability to dignify, honor, and embrace the other.