During the month of August our church community will be journeying through John Chapter Six and Pau’s letter to the Ephesians. Our new series is called ‘Bread of Heaven’. In reading these ancient texts, one thing becomes very clear, the unity of the Body of Christ has always been a major emphasis in the teaching of the church. The word ‘unity’, however, does not suggest some sort of singularity. Far from it. The early church communities were made up of a very diverse group of people – with different cultural/ethnic backgrounds, social status and religious understanding. In fact, we will discover that the early church was held together by their ‘Unity in Christ’, rather than any sense of ‘agreement’ or ‘similarity’ they might have enjoyed.
So – what does ‘unity in Christ’ actually mean?? Well, without jumping the gun too much, (you’ll have to come along to worship each Sunday through August to see this unpacked in detail!!) Unity in Christ is based on the idea that our communal identity is something that has been accomplished ‘in Christ’ – because of what Christ has already done. It is Christ’s calling and obedience, Christ’s love and witness, Christ’s reconciling death and resurrection that have conjoined us with God and one another. This is not something we can achieve on our own. And, indeed, we need to be careful not to stumble into the idea that somehow seeking agreement on particular ideas or actions is always necessarily a good thing anyway!! In my experience, respectful conversations around conflicting ideas present us with opportunities to learn and grow as a community of faith.
But, of course, there is still much we can do. Even though we may have very different ideas about God, the church, and the world – we are called to be unified in the way we act towards one another. Christ’s unifying commandment to us all is ‘to love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). We may need to discern together as a community what this looks like from time to time – but with the Holy Spirit as our guide, the way ahead must be one paved with kindness and grace, courage and faithfulness. Or as the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-3)
During our ‘Bread of Heaven’ series, we will discover that, as diverse as we are, it is the same hunger for the Kingdom of God, for justice and righteousness, for healing and hope, that brings us to Christ’s table. And it is as we gather before the table of the Lord, in communion with one another and with God, feasting on the broken bread that is Christ’s body, and drinking from the cup of His love poured out for us, that we truly become the Body of Christ.