Building community again as changed people

Mary Copping, 11 April 2021

Acts 4: 32–35; 1 John 1: 1–2: 2; John 20: 19–31

A definition of community is ‘The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’. A definition of fellowship: ‘Friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests’.

Imagine the small community, or fellowship, of disciples following Jesus, seeing what he did, being taught by him, sometimes being chastised by him, all living and working together, having everything in common, supporting and helping each other. They must have become very close. What a privilege to be with Jesus! Then for them the worst happened. Their leader was crucified and they ran away, they scattered.

In our gospel reading we hear of them cowering in the Upper Room when Jesus comes to them. I wonder why he says three times, ‘Peace be with you’. Was it words of forgiveness for them, as perhaps he knew that they were feeling so ashamed at leaving their master in his greatest need, in spite of all that they had said to him before? ‘We’ll always stay with you, we’ll never leave you.’ But rather than berating them or making them feel guilty he blessed them with his peace and then said to them, ‘As the Father has sent me so I send you’. He commissioned them – these fallible, weak men, and perhaps women there as well – to go out and tell the good news.

At this time, as people are looking forward to going back to the gym, to playing sports, yes, they’re wanting to get back to exercise and sport – but I think for most people, it’s actually wanting to be part of a community again, being with a group of people of like mind again, who share the same interests, the same goals. A small community and fellowship.

As people look forward to coming back to church – next week some of you will be coming to a service in this church – yes, looking forward to worshipping together again of course (although we’ve been able to worship online thanks to the technology), but also looking forward to meeting with others from the church fellowship once more in person, to being with them even at a distance, to sharing with them. The church community is unusual in that it has people of all ages (and in this we look forward to the time when the children are able to join us), all backgrounds, all different interests – but the one thing we all have in common is our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the hope we have in him. What a wonderful time to be coming together again, to rejoice in Christ risen from the dead, come to set us free and to bring us in relationship with God once more!

We thank God for the technology that has enabled us to meet people online, on Zoom, by phone. And there’s also been a dedicated group of people – Parish Visitors and others – ensuring that people in the congregation are kept in touch with and feel part of the church community. For us to be able to come together once more, having been away from each other for so long, gives one a huge appreciation of the church community. Our church fellowship is vital for us and for all those around us.

Having been away from each other for so long gives one a huge appreciation of the church community.

We are all changed by this pandemic; we have all had our lives turned upside down, and we continue to be changed as we come into this new future. We’ve all had to look at what we value most and what’s not so important, and now ours is to build community again as those changed people, supporting and helping each other in any way we can. We all have a part to play. It’s like a mosaic: all the pieces vitally important – the bright ones forming the main picture, but also the many pieces around them without which the picture would not mean anything. They are the important ones that bring the bright ones out. So for us, each one of us is important for our church community – whether we’re in church, whether we’re at home, whether we’re phoning people, praying for people – we’re all part of this community. Without each one of those mosaic pieces the church community is not complete.

Another definition of community: ‘A particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants’. As we look round at those who live in our parish – at all those we will begin to meet again in shops, schools, work – how do we reach out to the community beyond the church? Many have been doing this through shopping for people, cooking for the Nightshelter. I hadn’t realised that Jean Gardner, whose funeral was recent, used to cook regularly (along with many others from our churches) for the Nightshelter. Also people have been working with needy families, and making phone calls to the lonely and bereaved. What a challenge now, with our newly refurbished church, to use this more and more widely for our community, with each of us playing our part. We can and will all work together to help each other and the community. Our church fellowship is vital for us and for all those around us – a support and help through difficult and easy times.

The fellowship of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was there from the beginning of time. Creation exists because God chose to share that fellowship with us. And through our fellowship, our church community, others can see a glimpse of what God is like; even through our failures and weaknesses, as well as our loving and caring for each other.

Jesus is risen but still has the wounds in his hands and his side, as he showed the disciples, especially Thomas. So for us, gradually and carefully coming out of this pandemic, we still have the wounds of all that we’ve been through. We will still suffer from losing loved ones, from the long months of loneliness and isolation, from months of illness, perhaps. So, how much more important is the church fellowship for each of us, how important that we can find God’s love and kindness within our churches, and others can find that as well?

In our reading from Acts, we hear, ‘Now the whole group of believers was of one heart and soul’. Very occasionally the church community can mirror this, but more often it can only bear witness to the fact that the fellowship is made up of people who know their own weaknesses and continue to need the forgiveness of God in Christ. So for us, as we are in church or at home or in the community, we are of one heart and soul in following Christ, our Saviour and friend. And we will continue to help and support each other, as pilgrims on a journey, with the help of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.