In American politics, whatever the party affiliation of a newly elected president, he will always call for unity. He will tell us that, during his presidency, he will be “a force for unity….will work to heal divisions….will bring people together.”
Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and presidential calls for unity.
The sentiment is welcome, of course. I’m all for unity, as I’m all for other goods such as world peace, ending poverty, and sending COVID-19 back down whatever hellhole it crawled out of. Disunity is not good for our country, communities, or families.
That being said, we must not naively assume that unity is the solution to our problems, either. Being unified just means people happen to believe most of the same things, most of the time, about stuff that matters to them. A gang can be unified around the creed of greed and power, with rituals of violence to bind them together. The men of Sodom—“both young and old, all the people to the last man” (Gen. 19:4)—were unified in their desire to gang rape Lot’s two visitors, but I assume we can all agree that was an ugly, beastly unity.
So, where does that leave us? Disunity is not good, but the wrong kind of unity might be equally or grossly bad. The goal, then, is neither disunity not unity merely for unity’s sake. What we need is something else.
Cornerstone and Clay
Today, December 22, we sing an antiphon that speaks of that “something else.” It’s a unity, a oneness, that is found in our cornerstone King.
“O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay” (LSB #357).
First, let’s pause just a moment to marvel at how pregnant with Scripture this antiphon is. In five phrases of only twenty-six words total, the author alludes to Genesis (“whom you formed out of clay”), Haggai (“the ruler they long for”), the Psalms (“the cornerstone”), Isaiah (“King of the nations”), as well as to numerous New Testament books.
Only a mind and soul saturated with Scripture could pen such words.
Second, do you see the contrast between who we are and who Christ is? We are “clay,” but the Messiah is “the cornerstone.” This takes us back to Genesis 2:7, where adam (“man”) is so named because he is from the adamah (“earth or arable ground”). As Isaiah says, “We are the clay, and you are our potter” (64:8). Clay, in and of itself, is not strong, not stable. Clay does not unite. One good rainstorm and it’s washed away.
But a cornerstone? It is secure. It is stable. A cornerstone holds the entire building together. It is the point of unification and oneness. Everything rests on it.
The original Latin of this antiphon tells us precisely which biblical verse the author had in mind. Christ the cornerstone makes utraque unum (“both one”). This same phrase is used in the Latin translation of Ephesians 2:13-14, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one [utraque unum].”
Paul is speaking to Jews and Gentiles, once disunified but now unified, made unum in the one man, Jesus Christ. Immediately after this, Paul says to the church in Ephesus that all of us are now part of God’s household, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:20-22).
We who are formed out of clay are being reformed into a living, breathing, vast temple of God. Jewish clay and Gentile clay. Male clay and female clay. All of us are unified in Jesus Christ as we become part of this living temple-church. And this living temple-church is unified by Christ Jesus, “himself being the cornerstone.”
No Ephemeral Unity
Now, finally, we see what kind of unity we need. It’s a unity based not on politics, ethnicity, race, ideology, philosophy, or morality. No, our unity—the true unity that the Father desires for all of us—is a unity only and fully in Jesus Christ.
I am a fifty-year-old, white, American male who is a disciple of the Son of God. And in Jesus, I am in communion with a twenty-year-old Pakistani woman who believes in Christ, a seventy-year-old Nigerian man who confesses Jesus, and a three-day-old Ecuadorian child who is still dripping from baptismal water poured in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I am more unified with them than my fifty-year-old, white, American male neighbor who is an unbeliever. He and I share a certain unity, to be sure, but it is ephemeral. With my brothers and sisters in Christ, I share an eternal, unshakable unity, for we are all members of the one body of Christ.
No matter which political system we live under—from republic to dictatorship—we all bow to a higher authority: the King of the nations. Our allegiance is to him.
More importantly, his commitment is to us. There have been kings who willingly gave their lives for their nation, but none that willingly and joyfully shed their blood for their enemies. But our king did. He was born with a target on his back—a target that one day would become a cross. He bore it on his body that, when he was “lifted up from the earth” to die a glorious death upon that cross, he might “draw all people to [himself]” (John 12:32).
He is the unifier. Our oneness with the Father. Our communion with the Spirit.
He is the desire of the nations, the only one who can satisfy our deepest human longings. He is the king of the nations, before whom every knee will eventually bow. He is the cornerstone who unites the living temple-church of his body.
O King of the nations, come and save us all!
*In tomorrow’s article, we will look at the seventh and final antiphon, “O Emmanuel.”