/ Nathan Eshelman

Sanctorum Communionem

Last week I found myself in a very empty fellowship hall at the church where I pastor. The chairs and tables have been put away since March and we have not had a fellowship lunch since then. Occasionally my kids will say, “Remember at fellowship lunch when….” and they will tell a story or mention a favorite recurring dish or dessert.

As I stood there in that big echoey room, I sighed and considered all that has not gone on in there since March. “I believe the communion of the saints.”

Those old ancient words.

Credo… sanctorum communionem.

I walked over to the wall and noticed the calendars had also not been updated:

MARCH
APRIL
MAY

We keep a quarterly schedule on the wall on white board calendars. They were all still in place. Birthdays and anniversaries and events had gone by.

Covid-19 has been especially difficult for many congregations. Every one has their story, and I am not elevating my congregation’s experience as an example of Christian suffering. Not at all. It has not been easy—but God has been gracious, for sure.

We have continued to meet weekly in our beautiful courtyard to pray and sing and hear the Word of God preached. We had one outdoor baptism and we’ve received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on two occasions while seated in the grass under the deep blues and greens of the midcentury stained-glass window.

God has been so good to us. One younger member said to me that it was “like worshiping in a fairy garden.” I’ve never been in a fairy garden, but I can imagine the similarities—purple and red blossoms all around, sun-drenched grass, beautiful stained-glass against the khaki stuccoed walls. Interesting variations of hummingbirds and butterflies.

Sure, a fairy garden.

We are meeting. We are worshiping.

Credo… sanctorum communionem. I believe the communion of saints.

We have gotten back to the basics--to the essence of church. The church gathers for worship; the church prays together. We sing the psalms and we hear the Word of God read and preached. This, in many ways, is central to the calling of the church—worship is central to the church’s mission. We must never forget that and be mindful of the fact that the medieval church crumbled--in part--due to required over-scheduled-events and days that took away from the simplicity and beauty of the Sabbath’s worship of God. The Lord is gracious; worship continues.

Credo…sanctorum communionem. I believe the communion of saints.

With that said, as Presbyterians, we confess that communion of saints begins with union with Christ (WCF 26.1) and is expressed in the mutual worship of the church, as well as mutual fellowship and duties.

Our Confession of Faith says that communion of saints is expressed "in the worship of God; and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities, and necessities… (WCF 26.2).”

So God would require more of his people than merely gathering for worship, as strange as that sounds. Worship, although central, is not alone as the only basic. We must pursue ways to minister to one-another and to edify one-another. The church must seek to relieve those who are in need.

Credo… sanctorum communionem. I believe the communion of saints.

Despite our mutual, providential, burden monikered Covid-19, many congregations have continued to worship—and that is great—it is central to communion of the saints; that ancient profession of what is fundamental in the Christian faith. But we also confess that this communion requires fellowship, mutual ministry, and relief.

Requires.

These aspects of communion of saints  are also central and basic to the Christian life—even in times of plague.

As I cleaned off the dates and events bygone from that white board in the fellowship hall it was difficult cleaning. The dry-erase dates had impressed themselves into the board and required a bit of a scrubbing. I was reminded that month-to-month my brother elders have encouraged our flock to find creative ways to get together and to have fellowship.

Fellowship is not the extra of the Christian life. It is not the dessert table’s bounties, of which you may or may not partake.

Credo… sanctorum communionem. I believe the communion of saints.

It is required.

Worship.
Fellowship.
Relief.

Don’t lose sight to what God is calling the church in the midst of this providence.

Church, what do you believe?

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in LA, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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