I read a thoughtful and gracious blog the other day which made me think once more about the gift of community Jesus gives us. The blog was an open letter to author Anne Rice after she publicly left the church, though apparently she said she hadn't lost her faith. The link is here, and it's well worth your time to read: http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/episcopal_church/the_only_thing_that_makes.php#more . This writer makes the point far more eloquently than I could that while the institution of the Church is flawed, human, sinful, and often causes pain not only to its members but to the world, we cannot "do the Jesus thing alone." It is a paradox, but it is nonetheless true.
This is the mystery of the incarnation. God-with-us, in the flesh, that is our proclamation. However, that incarnation is not lived in one person, in an individual, but in the community the Son of God created, as flawed and broken as it is. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst," Jesus said in Matthew 18:20. And in John 15 he says, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love." This "you" is consistently plural. This is a community request, a community promise, a creation of community abiding in the love of Jesus who abides in the love of the fullness of the Triune God. This means that this is our mystery: the presence and love of Jesus lives in our midst when we are together, not when we are apart. The life of the Incarnate God is lived in our midst, among us. This is why our worship leaders face the assembly, not a Holy of Holies, when they lead prayer, because it is in the midst of the people that our Lord Jesus is present, incarnate still in the world.
I have not always thought this was a good idea of God's. Trusting frail and often evil human beings to be the presence of God, the continuing incarnation in the body of Christ for the sake of the world, seems incredibly risky. We do horrible things, and people like Anne Rice finally have enough and leave the community. People are wounded and trampled on by the very Church Jesus created to heal and lift up. Congregations split, denominations fight. That denominations exist at all is a sign that we can't be trusted to be faithfully the body of Christ without messing it up.
But the triune God did not do this unaware of our sinfulness. Jesus had ample evidence that we were flawed and untrustworthy throughout his ministry, just from his followers alone. Their betrayals and actions of the days surrounding his crucifixion only cemented that awareness. Yet, risen from the dead, Jesus still turned to these flawed, broken disciples, and called them together for breakfast, made them a community again. The first thing he did after that breakfast was to send them out once more to be his body, his love, his grace in the world.
As Tevye would say, "Sounds crazy, no?" It does, and sometimes it seems as if God should have thought of something different. Yet it clearly is God's way to love the world, and so I have hope. I have hope that if God knows what God is doing here, it will come out alright. "My word will not come back to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose," God says in Isaiah 55. This plan will work, in us, through us, for the sake of the world and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Where two or three are gathered, there is our Lord in our midst. There is God in the world. That's incredibly good news, indeed.