The Oasis

Writings from the ministry team

for your refreshment

 

 

CB-Easter 7 - May 2016.

Lionel and I are happy to be with you and to have the opportunity to travel with you for a while, and we would like to thank you for your warm welcome.

It is a truly wonderful thing that, as members of the Christian family, we can go from Church to Church community, here in France, in this Diocese, or indeed any part of the world, and always feel that we have come home. We have friends all over the place! Our liturgical styles may differ, our understandings of doctrine might be quite far apart and we might not agree about all sorts of things. Sometimes, we might not even like our brothers and sisters very much, but that is not the point!  We all belong together and there is something stronger than our differences which holds us together in unity.

This is one of the great joys for me as I serve in different Churches. We greet each other in the name of the Lord, we sing hymns together, pray together, eat together, both at the Holy Table and  in our homes.  We belong to the same family of the baptised. It is a great privilege and a great joy to belong to the family of God and it always seems to me to be a complete miracle.

What is it exactly that holds us together? What is it that enables the Anglican Communion to stay together in spite of our differences – some of them more important than others? What is it that brings people of all cultures and races together as a family, when we are all so very different and when we disagree and argue, sometimes quite violently, about so many things and sometimes very small things?

Is it the longing for perfect unity and mutual love – the dream, the vision?  Do we dream of a world wide Church community living in love and peace with no squabbles? Well, I'm sure we do and the promise of God tells us that this will indeed be a reality – but not quite yet. For today, we live in an imperfect world and we are imperfect people. The reality is that we do fight and squabble and that the worldly ambitions of power and authority, or the incompatibility of people are part of our life together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:

He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes the destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

In fact it is in the imperfect community of hurts and conflict that God's grace appears. “It is in our differences, in our struggles, in our hurts that we encounter and receive God's grace and gift most completely.   It is then that we are able to see Christ in our neighbour.  It is then that we are able to be loved in spite of ourselves. It is then that we know most deeply our own need for God”.

Church Unity is a reality, but not through our own merits or through our own efforts, but through the grace of Jesus Christ our Saviour. This is the real power of God's love for us in Christ. We are one in Him through his death and his resurrection. We are one with Him, bound to him, living in Him just as the Father and Son exist together in loving community. Christ prays for us: “ As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us”. 

The reality of us being given the grace to live this community of love with God and with each other is essential as we are sent out into the world to make disciples. We do not meet others as “better” people. We meet others as ordinary people with the same faults as all ordinary people, but as people who live through God's grace – who live in love with the Father and the Son and, inspite of ourselves, with each other.

By grace we share in the glory of the risen and ascended Christ. Every Ascension day, and even, every day, we can rejoice together that we not only gaze with wonder on the risen and ascended King of Kings but we share in his glory. How wonderful is that?!!

This is perhaps the “joy of believing” that Paul talks about in his letters and perhaps the source of his prayer for the Romans and for us:

“ May God, who is the ground of hope, fill you with all joy and peace as you lead the life of faith until, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you overflow with hope”.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Silas lie in the dark inner prison. They have suffered injustice, false accusation, they have been beaten and put in chains. And yet, here they are praying and singing hymns to God!

Nothing, it seems, can separate them from the love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ . It is perhaps the living in the unity of God's love and living in that inner joy which enables them to sing and praise God at such a ghastly time! Perhaps it is also to this sense of unity and joy that people respond to.  Perhaps it is this sense of shared love and joy, lived out in a far from perfect world, by far from perfect people, that in some way makes the Christian message credible to others: As Jesus prays:

“ May they be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”

In our Easter readings from Acts, we have seen that more and more people, both Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, were being baptised and draw irresistibly into this circle of love. Today it is the turn of the Roman jailer, not only a Gentile but a Roman soldier who represents  the rule of the oppressor.  The jailer is literally shaken to the core, partly by the earthquake itself, partly because his prisoners have been freed by the earthquake and this means death for him, but mostly perhaps because of Paul.

Paul reaches out to him, telling him not to kill himself. The jailer is so shaken by this strange and unexpected act of compassion that he falls at Paul's feet. He certainly saw something in Silas and Paul which was irresistibly attractive and which opened up very new and different possibilities.  The jailer is drawn into the circle of love. He takes Paul and Silas into his home, washes their wounds, and then he is baptised, along with his family into the community of love. Then they sit and share food together. This meal was a love feast, an “Agape”. A celebration of the Lord's Supper. This is the meal which brings home to us the reality of the community of love of which we are part. The joyful celebration of love which passes all understanding, which unites us to each other and to God. The joyful celebration which unites imperfect people in an imperfect world in perfect love. Amen

Christine Bloomfield