The Gift of Christian Community

As I sit in a church empty except for staff, I find myself already missing you.  My thoughts today have circled back around to an important German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In 1938 Bonhoeffer wrote a little book entitled — Gemeinsames Leben or Life Together.  

He begins the first chapter of his thoughts about Christian community with this observation:
“It is not to simply be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” 

And then a bit further on:
“It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament.” 

 And then finally this:
“It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day... Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart.  Let him thank God on his knees and declare:  'It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.'”

These observations must have made an impact on me because I read this book 20 years ago, and yet in the days since the need for social distancing have come into reality, they crept immediately back into my consciousness.  When I took Bonhoeffer's book off the shelf of my study a few minutes ago I did not even have to look for these quotes for long as I had underlined them and even written thoughts in the margins.

Perhaps, like me, you are guilty of having taken for granted the great blessing & privilege of Christian community.  Perhaps like me, you know in your heart that when we are able to be with one another and shake hands and even hug one another again we will be praying inside Bonhoeffer's prayer, "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren."

This season in which we are compelled to care for one another by not being close to one another is a time for us to reflect on the value of the gift of Christian community — so that when things return to some resemblance of "normal" we will truly appreciate the gift of our togetherness.

We are no longer meeting in groups larger than 10 . . . but we know that God is with us, and that our Lord has promised that "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”  (Matt 18:20).

So let us be conscientious about being there for one another.  Let us keep the ties which bind us strong even when we cannot be physically present to one another.  
Pick up the phone.
Write a letter.
Send a text,
or whatever else you can think of to remain connected to one another.

Know that your staff are all thinking of you daily and are working very hard to provide you with new, and hopefully faith-sustaining, opportunities even in this time when we are somewhat isolated from one another.

Your friend and pastor — Paul

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,1954.  Life Together
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. pp17-20.

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Paul Lang