Friday, July 17, 2009

In community (slight return)

Whenever we come together around the table, take bread, bless it, break it, and give it to one another saying: “The Body of Christ,” we know that Jesus is among us. He is among us not as a vague memory of a person who lived long ago but as a real, life-giving presence that transforms us. By eating the Body of Christ, we become the living Christ and we are enabled to discover our own chosenness and blessedness, acknowledge our brokenness, and trust that all we live we live for others. Thus we, like Jesus himself, become food for the world.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole question of the Eucharistic community that is the church, the Body of Christ. Sue, of the blogger of Discombobula, left a long and interesting comment on my post In Community, where she speaks of “the giant mass of people who have departed out of Sunday morning meetings”, and of the online community that has formed among so many of them. She mentions the state of being for a time “out in the backside of the desert”—and how she hopes that “those times serve their purpose also in enabling us to better live in community once we return.”

I’m sure Sue is right, those times are, at least potentially, means to grow and change and heal and draw closer to God, so that we are better able to rejoin the Body when we do eventually return. But still I do fear for people living, through choice, necessity or persecution, outside of a Eucharistic community. I don’t think I could do it myself, not for long, anyway. Without that “real, life-giving presence” I would shrivel up like a lopped branch left out in the sun. The world-wide web doesn’t do this “real, life-giving presence” thing, any more than the radio did, back in the days when lonely, housebound people would turn to the BBC Prayer for the Day and Sunday Worship for their church.

I don’t know. I wonder why this bothers me so much… all I do know is that there are wise, wonderful Christians out there in the inter-tubes who don’t seem to be a part of this thing I find so vital for my life and breath, and I do worry about them, pray for them, fear for them, too. With the turmoil the church seems to be intent on digging itself into in the early years of the 21st century, the situation is not, by itself, going to get any better. I feel we need, all of us, without and within the churches, to be thinking and talking about all this far more than we do.

Oh, I know plenty does get written, but it’s all too often written from one side or another of battle-lines (“You must go to church or you’ll fall away and be damned!” vs. “All churches are crap—abusive, institutionalised gangs of hypocrites!”) which will never do any of us any good. We need to talk gently, in love; we need to pray for each other, weep with each other… and see what God is truly doing, in the only place he really does things, in our hearts.

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