Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Building Community

To participate in the building and sustaining of human community is to do ministry.  It is the way in which we are doing the reconciling ministry of Christ.  St Paul writes to the Church at Colossi, “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation….  Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  (Colossians 1:15, 20)  The image here is one of profound harmony and systematic interconnectedness emerging out of a sense of meaning and obedience.  When this is experienced in human life, we have “community.”  The word that most fully expresses this understanding of community is Shalom, and all-encompassing word covering all the relations of life.   It expresses a vision of what the Israelites conceived as the ideal of what God intended life to be.

The Church exists in the world as a sign of God’s kingdom.  When we gather, we do so as an expression of shalom.   In describing this experience of Christian community the New Testament uses the word koinonia, or quite literally, “sharing in partnership.”  It is from this understanding of God’s intention for human existence that a ministry of community building emerges.  We are not engaged in simply making life more pleasant, making people feel good about themselves.  We are participating in what is fundamental to the to the redemptive activity of God.

The primary concern of the Church is never with its own life alone, but with God’s redemptive activity in the world.  This activity in concerned with reconciliation of the human family as we exist in relationship to one another and to the created order that sustains us.  This redemptive activity, in his Son Jesus Christ involves the overcoming of the separation that exists between individuals, groups, and those structures and institutions in society, which put nation against nation and race against race.

At the heart of the biblical proclamation is clear recognition of the reality of sin, that fundamental state of separation that touches all aspects of our existence.  Sin is rebellion against God’s claim upon us; the urge to carve out our destinies in response only to our own limited and often distorted perceptions of reality.  To understand the reality of sin in human existence is to understand why it is that all utopias are doomed ultimately to fail, why it is that power corrupts, why no leader or ideology or institution can ultimately save us.  To understand the overwhelming reality of sin is to know the power of separateness that exists in everyone, balanced only by the movement of God calling us into communion with others who share our humanity.  There is available to everyone access to that power which breeds through loneliness and isolation and calls us into relationship with others.  “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17)  The creation of this new order, the re-creation of a world at one with itself, and therefore at one with God, is the redemptive activity of God in Christ, that activity to which we are called to celebrate, to bear witness to, and most importantly, to participate in.   This is the fundamental witness and mission of the Church.

All this culminates in the acts of worship, word and sacrament, in which we experience this gift of community at its most powerful.  In the Eucharistic offering of bread and wine, our brokenness and separation are offered in symbolic union with the broken body of Christ, and then given back transformed and made whole as a sign of the new community brought into being by Christ’s passion and resurrection.  If we are to understand what it means to be builders of God’s community, we must do so from the context of the worship of God.  Building of community remains authentic only as it is empowered at its source, supported and guided by the community of faith, and then shared with others.   This is what we are called to do as the Church, to exercise a ministry of community building, so that in our communities of faith we may ambassadors of reconciliation in a broken and sinful world.

Richard Hammond Price, OCC  
©November 2011

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