Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"In Communion"

Edgar recently made this comment;

...More and more I struggle with what this whole notion of being "in communion" means. I don't think real communion comes from Bishops or Primates or from being in agreement. I think it comes from Jesus who said I draw ALL to myself. If he refuses to draw lines or exclude any, why should we? If they decide to throw ECUSA out, then so be it...
I'm at the point where I'm afraid I have to agree with him.

His comment did cause me to think a bit about my understanding of the phrase "in communion." In my own life, it seems the degree in which I am "in communion" with God will determine the degree that I am "in communion" with my neighbor. It is through sustaining a relationship with the living God that I am able to nurture a grace-filled relationship with my neighbor.

Tonight I came across the sermon offered on June 4 by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold, at installation of the 12th Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Andrew S. Hutchison. A portion of it may be helpful in gaining a fuller understanding of what it means to be "in communion";

...We speak a great deal these days about communion. Are we in communion or out of communion? Is our communion real but imperfect, or is it impaired? We speak of communion as if it were a human construction, as if it were something we have the power to bestow or withhold. In so doing we overlook the fact that communion is an expression of God's love: the love with which the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father in what St. Paul calls the "communion of the Holy Spirit." And, it is this communion of the Holy Spirit into which we are drawn through baptism, which unfolds within us the mystery of God's fathomless and all-embracing love. The joy of which Jesus speaks in the gospel is the deep knowing that he is rooted and grounded in--and indeed draws his identity from--the Father's love. And, it is this deep joy--Jesus' own joy--which the Spirit of truth works into us over time as we come "to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ."

We frequently begin or conclude our worship with the familiar words of St. Paul: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship--the communion--of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen." And yet, how often do we really reflect upon what we are saying? Grace, love and communion are all dimensions of one reality: God's own life and God's desire to share the love between the Father and the Son with us in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this being drawn together in the life of God, poured into our hearts as love by the Holy Spirit, which constitutes our true unity: our communion with one another. Looked at in this way we see how limited our notions of communion are in contrast to what the Holy Spirit intends.

And, communion implies difference. There would be no communion between the Father and the Son if there were no distinction between them. There would be no risen body of Christ if we were all a hand or a foot. Communion requires differentiation in order that love can go forth from itself and find another to love. Communion requires that there be singularities that set us apart from one another: that there be various ways in which we seek to inhabit and live the gospel, as well as different contexts in which we seek to discern the authentic workings of the Spirit--who is weaving the love of God into the fabric of our lives and spinning the webs of relationship of which our lives are made.

When it comes to our life within the body of Christ, each one of us has our particular experience, our personal history, a culture that has shaped us, a way in which Christ has encountered us, and faith has been born in us. We have each had our struggles, our successes and failures. We have had to live, in the fullness of our humanity, with all its paradoxes and contradictions, what we might call the scripture of our lives. And, through it all, the Spirit is deeply at work--shaping and forming Christ in us--and conforming us to the image of God's son, loving us into a fullness of being that reveals Christ in us, "the hope of glory."

That same Spirit is at work in others as well "according to the measure of Christ's gift." I may be a hand and you may be a foot. I may wonder at your otherness and strangeness and you may wonder at mine, and yet, we are both part of the same body--knit together in love and without which the body is incomplete. Together we form the full Christ: the Christ who speaks Ojibway and Inuktituk, Nisgaa and French, Swampy Cree, Moose Cree and Oji Cree, Naskapi and English, the Christ who seeks us in the plain exposition of the gospel and in elaborately celebrated sacramental rites, the Christ who lives in a refugee camp, and the Christ who dwells in a Toronto suburb, the Christ present on the right and the Christ present on the left. Only together can we form the full Christ.

I return to Thomas Merton: "If I allow Christ to use my heart in order to love my brothers and sisters with it, I will soon find that Christ, loving in me and through me, has brought to light Christ in my brothers and sisters. And, I will find that the love of Christ in my brothers and sisters, loving me in return, has drawn forth the image and the reality of Christ in my own soul."

Such is the true nature and cost of communion, a cost Christ bore upon the cross in order to draw all people and all things to himself...
...We speak of communion as if it were a human construction, as if it were something we have the power to bestow or withhold. In so doing we overlook the fact that communion is an expression of God's love... I think the Presiding Bishop has nailed the reason why I feel quite uncomfortable with phrases like in/out, full/impaired with respect to communion. As usual, humans must dissect everything.

So, there's some of Edgar's thoughts, some of mine, and some of Bishop Griswold's. I think this reflection is far from over. What does it mean to you to be "in communion"?

I have to add Edgar's "little poem,"

They drew a circle that left me out:
Heretic, rebel, a thing to tout.
But Love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took them in.

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