Unity is a popular word these days — and why wouldn’t it be? In a world dominated by vaccine conspiracies, feuds over masks, political division, racial unrest and economic uncertainty, the call to unity seems refreshing and warranted. In the last few weeks alone, several Christian and non-Christian books on the topic of unity have debuted with much fanfare, many calling for unity as “a way forward” to a more hopeful future of the Church and society. Yet I believe a critical reality to unity is missing: death.
Unity requires death. Unity without death is a cheap facade — a photo op — a flash in the pan moment that only leads to further division and entrenchment. Unity without death is subversive and dangerous. It’s driven by fear rather than love. Unity without death is still all about me. Think of a marriage. When a man and women come together in marriage their former lives, rhythms, priorities and identities must die in order to birth something new. Similarly, unity in the Church requires a death of ego and logo. A move from “me” to “we.” It requires a deep humility that’s rooted in continual repentance — an understanding that my thing may have to die in order for OUR thing to live. Philippians 2:3 puts it like this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.”
The hardest part of Easter is Saturday. Imagine being an early disciple and follower of Jesus who left everything behind only to witness it all come crashing down one Friday night. Distraught and disillusioned, you wake up on Saturday questioning everything. You’re angry. You’re sad. You’re confused. In the struggle to make sense of life, you go back to the thing you were doing before this Jesus character entered your life — you go fishing. For these disciples fishing was familiar. It’s what they knew and where they found security. And that’s the temptation right? All too often when we’ve stepped out in humility, open-handed and radically generous, trying our best to unite and consider others before ourselves, we tend to get scared and retrench back to what we know and where we found security. Like the disciples, we go back to “fishing” or “our thing.” But then, Sunday comes.
For the disciples, Sunday changed everything. The pain of death led to a newfound joy, purpose and life. It reminded them that mission was on. It reminded them of their calling, their gifting and their role in the transformation of the world that lay ahead. The disillusionment and disorientation of Saturday gave way to Sunday — to a purpose and mission so big that it was beyond any single disciple to accomplish on their own. Sunday was their mission. Sunday was their calling. The resurrection after death was the fuel to their unity.
Fast forward two thousand some-odd years later and Sunday changes everything for us and our call to unity. If we take Jesus at his word in John 17 as he prays for the unity of his followers, we quickly realize that unity is perhaps one the greatest apologetics to the Christian faith that we can offer to our lost friends, neighbors and coworkers. A divided and polarized world needs a united Church more than ever before. Yet if you’re anything like me, Saturday often feels safer and becomes a default go-to when the painful death that unity requires hits home. Humility is hard — unity is hard. It’s sometimes painfully disorienting. It requires continual repentance of fear, anger, jealousy and arrogance. So what do I often do? I trade the hope of Sunday for the safety and familiarity of Saturday. But then, Sunday comes.
Friends, I believe that a unity that’s rooted in death leads to a resurrection that’s so appealing, so counter-cultural that it changes the world. It’s the only way to sustained gospel movement and Kingdom advancement. And that unity, that death starts with me. Not just once, but over and over again. The Christian life is a continual story of Friday – Sunday. Death, disorientation and resurrection. Similarly, uniting the people of God for mission requires a death, a move through disorientation and pain in order to find resurrection and new life — together. We are a people of resurrection. We are a people of hope, healing and transformation who together will change the narrative of South Florida. One death of self at a time.
Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida. To learn more about Church United, visit churchunited.city
Read more articles by Edwin Copeland at: goodnewsfl.org/author/edwincopeland/