Union and Communion
As I write this on Sunday evening I’m reflecting on this morning. With Jon and Rob of our Cor Deo group this year we were privileged to join Huw and Alison at the International Church of Turin. Huw is a Cor Deo alum from last year and now pastors the Turin church. We had a time of delightful communion with Italians, Ghanaians, Brits, Russians, Nigerians, Americans, Filipinos and more. Many more.
The church communion caught my attention. What accounts for such an international bond? The theological answer is that by God’s Spirit the spiritually lively members of the church all share a union with Christ. My reflection this evening has to do with the tangible quality of that union as expressed in our communion. We had a sense of God’s love as our bond that made the community lively and life-giving.
I hope this isn’t a naïve and romantic reflection: a gush birthed out of the pleasant treatment we received. It was that, but more than that. A sense of happy welcome may come with any group that shares a common bond of some sort. A gathering of football club fans, for instance, can be jovial and memorable, especially if the home team wins a close match. But our time today was different.
What we had this morning was, in fact, much more basic and more profound. It was very simple. The reason for our gathering was to worship Christ. The connection is a standing invitation to be with others who follow Jesus, an invitation that recurs each Sunday. The church rents a school and the setting doesn’t even support the coffee urns or tea kettles that help a gathering to gather.
What was the key? Here’s the main reflection for me.
I offered the morning sermon and was privileged to speak from Isaiah. In chapter 25:7 we considered God’s promise that a day was coming when God would “swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces.” We moved ahead to consider 42:1-9 as well—the promise of the coming servant in whom God the Father delights. This coming one—identified in Matthew 12:15-21 as Jesus—would be a quiet but effective caregiver. One who is just, compassionate, and tender: not breaking even a bruised reed or quenching a smoldering, almost extinguished bit of flax.
Here, then, is what united us: a divine love so profound that it overcomes cultural and social divisions. God sent his Son to die so that in dying our death would be swallowed forever. So we were a people free from the weight of death this morning.
Not everyone among us has the same bond with Christ—a heart-changing encounter with him birthed as the Spirit poured out his love in our hearts—but those who still lack any union with Christ were secure among those who do have that bond. And with that we had the freedom of warm communion with each other.
In our main text for the morning—Isaiah 42—we were reminded that the Servant-Son is now ours in a covenant with us. Think here in marital terms, as affirmed later in 55:5, of Jesus as a husband caring for his beloved bride. As such he offers “light for the nations” (42:6).
This morning we experienced this light among the nations: a diverse community brought together against all odds by God’s Triune love for us. A communion formed without the noisy drama of football fans but with the quiet sacrificial love of those who now count others more important than themselves just as Jesus did when he swallowed death on our behalf.
This morning I experienced a miracle of communion through union: the quiet work of God’s love in action. He’s gracious, isn’t he!