One of my favorite movies of all time is the television mini-series Lonesome Dove, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Larry McMurtry. It tells the story of retired Texas Rangers in the 1800s who lead a cattle drive to Montana. At the end of the story (spoiler alert!!), the Gus character, played by Robert Duvall, dies from an infected arrow wound. But before he dies, he asks his best friend Woodrow, played by Tommy Lee Jones, to carry his dead body all the way back to Texas for burial. Angry and grief-stricken, Woodrow nevertheless agrees to this enormous request, and the final episode depicts his difficult journey back to Texas to fulfill his friend's dying request.
There's something about the wishes of the dying that carries a unique power and weight. When a dying parent, spouse, sibling or friend makes a request, don't we try to fulfill them, even if they are inconvenient or difficult? It's at the heart of one of my favorite organizations, the Make a Wish Foundation, which grants the dying wishes of children. When the dying ask something of us, we do whatever we can to make it happen.
Well, what if the dying wish came from Jesus? Wouldn't we be that much more willing to grant it?
In Sunday's appointed gospel we hear Jesus' dying wish. It comes as part of a prayer, but aren't most dying wishes framed as prayers? "Holy Father," Jesus says, "protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as you and I are one." In essence, Jesus' dying wish is that his followers embody unity. "Let them be one."
As a church, we don't always agree on everything. Sometimes we disagree on goals, let alone the specifics of how we'll get reach them. We have different ideas about worship, or fellowship, or social positions. But unlike the society around us, in which unity is only ever demonstrated when people agree, and disagreement almost instantly triggers broken relationship, as followers of Jesus we are called to more. His dying wish is for us to be one. To embody unity, even when we (inevitably) disagree.
The world is looking to the church to see if we're really any different, if we have something unique or different or precious to offer. And my God do we! We have joy and sacrifice and generosity and forgiveness and love to offer. But no one will pay any attention unless we first live into the crazy and lofty wish of a dying man we call Lord.