Colossians 3:15-17 (VT #818), 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (VT #785), Luke 24:13-35 (VT #470)
We share. That’s what we do here. That’s what church is about for us. Not just here, during worship on Sundays, but with the rest of our lives, too. We share meals together in our homes. We share stories about our lives. We share the weight of life, when we can’t keep up with all of it by ourselves. We ask for help, we look out for each other. We not only share the hard parts of life, but the delightful moments, too, in the ordinariness of shared life.
This sharing has been a very hard to sustain during the pandemic. We haven’t been able to meet together for followship groups. Our casual meetups have become rare as we try to prevent the spread of the virus. I know I’ve felt your absence in my life—the disruption of all of our routines for knowing each other, for keeping track of what’s going on in each other’s lives. I don’t know about you, but for me, this has felt like a season of lostness. I feel like I’m always forgetting, not just task lists and details, but it’s also felt like work to remember what I like to do.
Without our regular routines of life together, of church life, of gathering and fellowship, I’ve felt a disorientation—not just for me, but some of you have shared with me some of these same struggles, the struggle to hold ourselves together despite the muddle of it all.
This pandemic has shown me how much we depend on each other for the basics of our sense of self. That we really can’t be who we are without other people in our lives. This experience has reminded us how we find ourselves through our sharing, that we figure out who we are as we share stories and food and talk about life and offer care and advice.
All of this is part of what it means to be the body of Christ, for our lives to become one body. “Let your hearts be ruled by the peace of Christ,” we heard from Colossians, “to which indeed you were called in one body” (Colossians 3:15). We become a body together, each of us as members of one another through Christ, through God’s love. And this is what peace looks like, this gathering together, this sharing of life. The passage from Colossians goes on to talk about the practices of sharing that keeps the body united: “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Teaching, singing, offering each other advice and wisdom, developing a culture of gratitude to God for this life we have with one another. Community life happens only because we share our gifts: we offer what we have. And in the sharing, we find our life with God.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians, calls this our friendship with God. In Christ, in the body of Christ, we have been reconciled with God, we have been made friends of God, which means God likes to spend time with us, God likes to hear about our lives. That’s what we do here, as we share our joys and concerns, as we ask for prayer and give thanks, as we sing and offer wisdom—God is part of all of this.
Through worship, God listens in on our sharing, God joins us. God befriends us as we befriend each other. Reconciled friendship with God and neighbor—that’s the purpose of worship, according to 2 Corinthians, as we become the body of Christ through our sharing.
From early on in the Anabaptist movement, which became the Mennonite tradition, congregations took this commitment to sharing to involve some forms of economic sharing. Mennonite churches were mutual aid societies, where people used their money to take care of each other. Lots of Mennonite congregations still maintain that tradition, that practice of mutual aid—to care for each other’s physical and spiritual well being. We still do something like that with our benevolence fund. We set aside money in our church budget to offer assistance to one another whenever there’s a need.
I think about this commitment to mutual aid as part of a larger commitment to mutual care—because we sustain each other in ways that are beyond financial, a care for one another that includes money but also a sharing a life, of friendship, of fellowship. We need each other for peace, to live into the peace of Christ, as we heard from our passage in Colossians. To be at peace with ourselves, with each other, and with God—that takes all of us, all of the friendship we can offer one another.
Worship is how we recognize all of this sharing as holy—that our words and our care are holy. Other traditions use words like “sacramental” or “sacraments” to describe the worship practices that are holy, that connect us with God. But we tend to use language that isn’t as fancy—an ordinary word like “sharing.” As Anabaptists, as Mennonites, we haven’t spent time developing a sacramental theology. But that doesn’t mean that we think God is absent from our worship. We’re always reminding ourselves that God is here among us, that God is present, that we experience the love of God when we love each other, that we commune with God through our fellowship, through our sharing. The ordinariness of sharing is our participation in the friendship of God.
The passage from Luke’s gospel includes all of this. It’s a story of reunited friendship, where the resurrected Jesus talks and eats with his friends. The first thing that happens in the story is conversation, a sharing of what has been troubling them, of what they’ve seen, what they’ve experienced, which leads the two disciples to offer the hospitality of a meal to the stranger who turns out to be Jesus. The whole scene is so ordinary—an episode about how sharing together the concerns of life, and an offer of the care of a meal, leads to communion with Christ.
That’s what we do here, when we gather for fellowship and worship. We discover the life of Christ in our midst, the presence of God’s peace, to sustain us, to comfort us, to strength us with hope. That’s the purpose of worship. To share the love of God, to share the love of God with each other and the world.
This was the case from the beginning of the church. I’ll close with some words from Tertullian, a North African who wrote about the spread of Christianity during the late second century and into the early part of the third. The church, Tertullian wrote, lives through a sharing of Christ’s love.
Here is how he describes the reputation that Christians had in their communities: “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another…how they are ready even to die for one another” (Apol. 39.7).
We share the love of God. That’s our witness. That’s the nature of the Christian life. To become a community where people can receive the care of God’s love. That’s what it means to be made one in the body of Christ.
And communion is how we commit ourselves to that way of love, to the life of Christ’s peace, made alive in our reconciliation, in our friendships with God and each other. When we meet again next week, our last Sunday before the season of Lent, we will give thanks for God’s fellowship with us by gathering together at Christ’s communion table. And, as is our practice, we spend the week before communion to prepare ourselves.
Please open your hymnals to #938 and #937, toward the back of the book. First I’ll lead us in #938 to center us of God’s mercy and forgiveness—because, as we heard in our passage from 2 Corinthians, we were once enemies but God has changed us into friends. Then we’ll read the pledge of love, #937, as words to guide us for this week.