What if unity requires face to face contact?
Unity of any branch of humanity--religious, political, familial, otherwise--cannot be fully realized on earth. Fully knowing and being fully known, having no cross purposes with God, and being one with creation is a promise of the end times. Then we will fully know unity.
We can, however, taste unity in that tart green apple form on earth but not without meeting face to face. The dream of WIRED magazine seems to be that economic equity, political unity and equality can come from the internet and technology as the great equalizer. Meanwhile, one billion people today simply want clean water to drink--the technology they want is industrial, as in a drill for water wells.
The way some of us have perceived unity is very narrow, only in terms of church or in religious terms. This waters down and eventually wrecks the whole notion of unity for us, causing us to live a less than missional understanding of what it means to be unified with our creator, with Father, Son, Spirit, with humanity, with creation, with people unlike us. Therefore, we cannot and must not settle for some lofty and unattainable or untouchable, on the one hand, or cheesy and fluffy, on the other hand, version of unity.
Unity is multi-faceted, multi-faced, and we must come face to face with one another to achieve it in the now.
A story in Genesis about a face to face meeting illustrates the intensity of this kind of contact.
Jacob had been away from his brother Esau and his homeland for twenty years when God told him to return (Genesis 31:3). Jacob was terrified to meet his brother face to face. But he didn't have email, and even if he did, that wouldn't have (and still usually isn't) sufficient, adequate, preferred, or even appropriate for the kind of communication that needed to happen.
Jacob was rightly terrified, because he had bilked Esau out of his birthright and his blessing. Jacob acknowledged God had been with him in all his travels, even away from his homeland (with a world view of parochial gods, this was extraordinary). Still, Jacob hedged his bets and put his people in rows, beginning with the slaves, maids, their children, then Rachel and Joseph last.
Even ahead of those companies of his family he sent several messenger companies with gifts to give Esau, and he instructed them to say, "By the way, Jacob is behind us."
Meanwhile, Jacob wrestles with a man in the night--who seems very adversarial yet Jacob says he had met God face to face there. He even calls the place Peniel, meaning "the face of God."
Genesis 33 starts abruptly after that night wrestling and Jacob sees Esau coming with four hundred men. That's when he divided up his family into companies, a hedge against the possibility that Esau was coming to do them harm. Jacob went ahead. Can you see him limping from the man's strange form of blessing the night before--wrenching your hip.
So Jacob is leading the companies, bowing, taking a few steps, bowing again--seven times--dust no doubt on his face. Here we get an image that Jesus brings back in the Prodigal Son story: Esau runs to his brother, falls on him in Jacob's prostrate position, and kisses him.
And then Jacob and Esau wept together.
After some discussion about the gifts, why Jacob had sent them, whether Esau would accept them, Jacob had enough, Esau didn't need them, take them anyway, then Jacob drops the ultimate declaration that causes Esau to accept the gifts.
"No, please! said Jacob. "If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that youhave received me favorably . . . please accept, for God has been gracious to me, and I have all I need."
And because Jacob insisted with this plea, Esau accepted.
Still, they didn't live together. Jacob went near Shechem. Esau lived in Seir.
In preparation for see his brother, Jacob wrestled with God. We was afraid, but before he met his brother face to face, he met God face to face.
The divine reversal in this story is amazing. Esau reflects the image of God to Jacob.
Whose face do we show to our brothers and sisters? To those who come home after long periods away, what is the face we show them? Can they say, "to see you is to see the face of God"?
Unity requires face to face meeting, first with God, then with one another. But this doesn't always mean we will live together in some supposed blissful unity. Our hips will be broken, and awkward speech will pour from our lips, and life will mute our tongues, and we might choose to live in another land from our brothers.
Yet, to see face to face, even for a day--to see the face of God in our brother or sister--is part of what it means to reach out and touch authentic unity.