The Communion of Saints

A conversation on the church, with Ben Myers’ book The Apostles Creed.

It is astonishing that for a movement that utterly changed the world, Christianity has such humble origins. As Myers writes:

Jesus wrote no books…He was the author not of ideas but of a way of life. Everything Jesus believed to be important was entrusted to his small circle of followers. What he handed on to them was simply life. He showed them his own unique way of being alive – his unique way of living, loving, feasting, forgiving, teaching, and dying – and he invited them to live the same way.

The more I get a taste of the global church, the greater the mystery it is to me. How can it be that when I’m in a remote village of Tanzania, or a small town in Sweden, I can feel so at home in a church so outside of my culture and context? How is it that we embrace or shake hands with each other in genuine love as brothers and sisters in the Gospel? The faithful existence of the global church, in all its unity and disunity, is a miracle.

Becoming a Christian is not really about institutional membership or about adopting a system of ideas. To become a Christian is to be included in the circle of Jesus’ followers. I am washed with the same bath that Jesus and all his followers have had. I get to share the same meal that Jesus shared with his followers…I share the holy bath and the holy meal, and I read the holy stories, because I am seeking Jesus….I want my whole life to be “hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). I want my life’s small story to be tucked into the folds of Jesus’ story.

“Tucked into the folds of Jesus’ story.” I love this image of the Church. We are the body of Christ, the extension of his story, and yet in the end it is truly all His.

When this happens, my life acquires a meaning beyond itself. I begin to see myself as part of a great company, an ever-widening circle of people who have handed their lives over to the pattern of Jesus’ life…The Fourth Gospel ends by telling us that it has offered only a glimpse of Jesus. If everything Jesus did was written down, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

What an astonishing thing to realize. We see only a glimpse, and yet it is enough to keep us learning our whole lives.

“When we find our way to the living source of life, to Jesus himself, we discover that death is not really death anymore. Even in death our relationship to Jesus is not broken. Death becomes another place where we can go to find him. Wherever we go, he waits to meet us there.”

His words remind me of Tim Keller’s reference to Tolkien when he said, “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”

Perhaps, at the end of the age, the Total Gospel will be read out and will be found to contain everything – every life, every story, every human grief and joy, all included as episodes in the one great, infinitely rich story of Jesus and his friends. The world itself is too small for such a book. Life and death are too small for the communion of saints.

Amen and amen.

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