So last week I said something about “this one thing” – that if our confirmation students remembered, if any of us remembered nothing else about anything the church speaks into our lives, we can remember this one thing – nothing, absolutely nothing, not what we do or what we don’t do, not what we believe or what we don’t believe, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And I stand by that.
For the most part. Because it is really hard to just leave one thing there. Even a really good thing. Even the thing that I believe is the best news of all. Even the thing that I believe declares the core tenet of our faith. Even then it’s hard to leave just one thing and say, “If you remember nothing else….” because sometimes it’s hard to remember even just that one thing. Sometimes it feels like it is impossible to find comfort in even that one thing.
I got a message this week from a young adult I know outside of our church. It had been a long while since we had communicated directly. We’re “friends” on Facebook, but we don’t have any personal interactions there. But this young adult reached out to me because she’s having a crisis of faith. Raised in a family that rarely missed worship, with parents who led the children in prayer nightly, and adult siblings who continue to this day to speak easily about their unwavering faith in Christ, this young woman, I’ll call her Grace, just hasn’t been feeling it lately. She just hasn’t been able to muster up a living, vibrant faith in while. Her faith in God was just feeling dead, and she was feeling incredibly isolated in her experience.
So, yes, there’s that one thing – that truth that God’s love is all-encompassing, never-failing, always present, irresistible, unconditional, and nothing can take God’s love away. But maybe we also need one more thing for when that first thing is hard to feel, or believe, or trust.
My friend Grace felt like she was completely alone in her experience – – or maybe I should say her lack of experience of God – – but I imagine almost everyone here can relate to it. Droughts in the life faith hit most of us, I’ll dare to say all of us, at some time or another. Sometimes they come after a disaster, either personal (the unexpected death of a loved one, a terrifying diagnosis, an accident that alters one’s life forever) or communal (war, natural disaster, breach of trust). Sometimes they are accompanied by anger – anger at a loved one, anger at a situation, anger at God. And sometimes they just sneak up on us, even while things are going smoothly, and the well of faith just seems to dry up.
I remember this happening for the first time when I was in high school. I had been confirmed a few years before, was a regular participant in my church youth group, and never missed the congregation’s Saturday night worship. There wasn’t a crisis. There wasn’t a disaster. I just stopped feeling faith. There didn’t seem to be reason, and for a teenager who, like I mentioned last week, loved for things to be fair or at least have a reason, that was as frustrating as the drought itself. Why couldn’t I feel God? Why couldn’t I believe? I believed last week. I believed last month. I could pray then. I could give thanks. I could recognize my short-comings. I could ask for God’s healing and wholeness and strength. Why couldn’t I now?
I wanted to stop going to church. I was a teenager and not being hypocritical was very important to me. I wanted to just sort of drift off quietly, and I hoped no one would notice. I’d figure this faith thing out, and come back with everything was situated and back to normal. I’d come back when I was feeling it again, when I could speak the words, and sing the songs, and pray the prayers without feeling like it was a farce.
But here’s that other thing we can hold hand in hand with that first thing. Here’s the thing that goes with that declaration that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. The body of Christ, the church, is the physical sign of that love on earth. The body of Christ, the church, is exactly where we should be when it seems like God is nowhere to be found.
The description of the church just after Pentecost is not a description of a building. It’s not a description of a house church or a synagogue or cathedral or any other physical structure. It’s a description of the people of God, a community, and what they do when they are convicted by the truth of God’s love. They were together. They gathered. They were called by the Spirit of God and the simply abided with one another. They considered their property, their possessions, their resources, not as their own, but something entrusted to them for the good of many. In other words, you might say, they lived the love of God in their love and care for each other.
Why would we want to keep ourselves from this? Why when God already feels so far away, why when we can’t quite find anything to believe in, why then would we want to walk away from the closest thing we should be able to get to God in Christ on earth in front of us? Friends, this is the body of Christ. You are the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ, and we are a gift to each other to remind each other that nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ.
The central act of the early church when they gathered was the breaking of bread. We call it the Lord’s Supper now, or Eucharist, or communion. In sharing a meal, the community was and is reminded of our common dependence of God for physical and spiritual sustenance. In eating of the same loaf and drinking from common cups we are reminded of our unity as children of God. In serving one another and being served we are reminded of the posture of compassion Christ took for each of us and for all of us. This sacrament, this holy feast, this is one of the single greatest reminders of the never-ending love of Christ Jesus brought to life among the gathered people of God.
So, David, as you are being confirmed today, I want to remind you, whether you get it all in the Bible or not, whether faith seems abundant or barely even present, you are a part of the body of Christ, and this church, any church is the community God has given you to assure you of that. The church is God’s gift to all of us to remind us that we will never be alone. In faith and in doubt, in certitude and in questions, in abundance and in drought, we will never be separated from God’s grace.