Whether we’re going to the library or to the park or to church, there are several items I must have in order to avoid a complete parent/child meltdown. You could probably fill in the blank knowing the ages of my children: Diapers. Wipes. Snacks. Change of clothes (which I constantly forget). These things ensure that whatever emotional or biological mess erupts, we can at least begin to clean it up. We can at least start to make things better.
If there is one thing that having children in your life teaches you it’s this: Life together is messy. Life together is complicated — at all ages and stages of human development. Each of us have our own personalities, some of which clash. Each of us have our own preferences, some of which clash. Each of us have our own wants and needs and hopes and dreams, and we are each tasked with figuring out how to pursue those things without shutting out or shutting down our neighbor.
I forgot to ask Deacon Chris how long it’s been since we’ve had this kind of Sunday morning parish-wide social at Emmanuel, though the answer could very well just be “too long.” It’s been a tough three years. The pandemic isolated us. It changed not only how we relate to one another but how we relate to the world. So much that helped us to see the human in our fellow human beings is gone, replaced by InstaCart and Instagram and all the other shortcuts that claim to make life better but really just obscure it. For the past three years, we’ve lived so much of our lives apart from one another — and in many ways, we’ve gotten used to it: A text message is easier than a phone call. A podcast better than a conversation between friends. A life of seclusion, of withdrawal, of homogeneity safer than a life lived in community.
And yet, by the very fact of our gathering here this morning, we say in word and deed that a community is what we want to be. We want to be a community drawn together and bound together by Christ. That is our commitment, which is not easy, especially now, as our society shifts and we are formed more and more not by the liturgies of the church but by the liturgies of algorithms.
Our Lord calls those who follow him to lay down their lives for one another. He calls us to bear one another’s burdens. He calls us to suffer together — because that is what Jesus and his followers have always done. As he said, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.”
What a thing to consider on the morning of a picnic, perhaps the most quintessentially “happy” and “quaint” postcard moment we could come up with. But just as someone will inevitably knock over a cup of tea or have a tantrum because Mom said no to another cookie: true fellowship, real community, opens us up to the possibility of trouble, of pain, and of suffering. And that’s because when we abide together, when we take the risk of living with one another as we really are, we learn of the terrible weight of grief behind the warm greeting; or the stunning selfishness beneath the kind exterior; or the outsized anger that can bubble up when personalities collide. We learn in no uncertain terms that we are all human.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, Christian community is never an ideal. It is a divine reality.
Only in Christ can people who are so wildly different come together and stay together through the joys and trials of life. Only in Christ can we encounter our neighbor’s needs, our neighbor’s sinfulness, and love them because we were loved first. Only in Christ, can we take that chance and put our own hearts on the line, because only in Christ can the pain and the problems of today be the glory of tomorrow.
Story after story tells us this is true, whether it comes through the song of the psalter or the prophecy of Jeremiah. “Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD. For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.” That is who he is.
Let us remember: Humankind was once in strife. We were once estranged from one another because of our estrangement from God. Sin and death ruled our lives — until the Son of God came in the fullness of time to intervene.
Jesus accepted the work of bringing humankind back into community with God — knowing what it would cost. Knowing that the people God had made for himself would turn against him and cast him into the Pit. And what did we do but that exactly? Met with perfect love and perfect holiness, humankind looked at God incarnate and said “‘Perhaps . . . we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.’” And so we nailed him to a cross.
Such are the darkest depths to which human community can sink, the hell that is a mob, that is love turned to hate. And yet Christ responded to it all not with indignation, nor with vengeance, but with his very Body and Blood —that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.
This miracle, this victory is ours. As we cling to Christ, as we work out our salvation in his Church, we share more and more in that victory, becoming the kind of people who can suffer hardship and still sing: “But as for me, this is my prayer to you, at the time you have set, O LORD: In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. Answer me, O God, in your great mercy.”
There is an expectation there, a knowledge deeper than thought, that God will redeem even the worst of wrongs. “For if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
And that resurrection begins now. Here. As we are gathered together under the Word of God, as we are made one in his Body and Blood, we are made alive to God, struck through with the love that would willingly hang on the cross and die that all creation might be saved. This is the love that makes community possible. This is the love that refuses to let Death and Sin have the final say. This is the love that would redeem us, remake us, and so transform the world.
Life together will always bring its share of confusion and heartache as well as its moments of joy and celebration. Whatever mess we may encounter, whatever tears may come, whatever cross we must bear, May we all remember the Lord who died so that we might live and love one another as he loves us. AMEN.