The United Church of Canada’s crest is an interesting thing. All its features have meaning – its shape, its symbols, its colours – and are worth exploring. Check out the national church’s website to find out more about that if you’re interested. Today, I’m particularly interested in the words that frame it.
In addition to the name, it says two other things. Well, two things that I think are really one thing. When the crest was adopted it had the Latin phrase “Ut omnes unum sint” and in 2012, a Mohawk phrase was added, “Akwe Nia’Tetewa: neren.”
The Latin phrase means “that all may be one,” a reference to John 17:21. At least, I read somewhere that it’s a specific reference to verse 21, but that phrase appears several times in John 17, as Jesus prays to God on behalf of himself, the disciples and everyone.
Let me step back a moment. John 15-17 is often referred to as The Farewell Discourse. As John tells the story of Jesus’ last night with the disciples, Jesus spends a fair bit of time talking to them about important things. At the end of that farewell talk, he prays. A unifying theme in this prayer is this thread of “that all may be one.”
But this isn’t about uniformity, conformity, sameness, homogeneity or any of those other words that mean “all exactly the same.” I think if Jesus had meant that, he would have said “that all be the same.” He doesn’t. In fact, in the larger context of the prayer, he makes it pretty clear that he means that all may be one in the same way that Jesus and God are one: in relationship. Jesus and God are not the same, they are one together.
I think Jesus framed this near the beginning of the prayer when he asks God to take care of the disciples, to support them and protect them (John 17:11). I think Jesus recognized that there’s greater strength in relationship than uniformity, greater strength in the intertwining of uniquenesses than in the commonality of sameness. Love is the thing on which these relationships are built. Love is the means by which the interaction of diversities becomes unity, as we love and are loved. That love is in each of us, as it is in Jesus and God.
John’s gospel frames this as “that all may be one.” The gospel’s author might have appreciated the much later – and more political – statement “unity in diversity.” It’s a common way of describing the Canadian identity of multiculturalism and in 2000, it became the official motto of the European Union. But I think John’s words imply more, that there’s an essential element to the building of that unity and that’s something that encompasses respect, grace, openness and willingness: love.
The importance of the relational aspect of this kind of unity is reflected in the Mohawk phrase. It means “all my relations.” Our unity is, simply, our connectedness. Recognizing that we are connected not just to each person we meet but all persons, not just the one place will live but all the earth, not just people but all living things. Whatever language we may use (because that’s incredibly diverse, too) to describe that connectedness, Jesus makes it simple: it’s love.