I John 1:1-2:2
During my second year of seminary, I had the opportunity to spend time in the Dominican Republic. This small, island country is actually part of the Episcopal Church, and I went with one of my seminary buddies to their Episcopal seminary in Santo Domingo.
Like anybody who has traveled overseas, we immediately found ourselves immersed in unfamiliarity. We packed into taxis and buses, always accompanied by merengue music. The food was different, I mean, we had ham sandwiches for breakfast. And worst of all, the coffee was unfamiliar; that’s an issue for a coffee fiend like me. I had difficulty getting my bearings, I had trouble thinking in my crazy, mixed-up Spanglish. It was like I was in a different country (smile).
Now the Episcopal seminary in Santo Domingo has its own little chapel. Not any bigger than from me to the first pew and no wider, all the seminarians crammed in for daily morning eucharist. And as I sat there, lost among a new people, I heard strangely familiar words: “Bendito sea Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo.” “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Then the familiarity came again: “El Senor sea con ustedes.” “The Lord be with you.” “Y con tu espiritu.” “And with thy spirit.”
Suddenly I was in a familiar place. The words, though they were different, were the same because we were praying for the same things. It struck me, as the congregation of seminarians started saying, “Padre nuestro,” Our Father, that the fellowship of the Church is much grander than I ever imagined. Episcopalians in Santo Domingo were praying with the very same words that I had been praying with for years.
That magnificence, the grandeur of the Church’s fellowship, is part of the message from the letter of First John. In its opening sentences, that letter states, “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
This fellowship is a type of participation, of partnership with one another and with God. You see, there is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. In order to be in communion, in fellowship with God, you must first be in a community with other Christians. There is simply no way to have a communion, a fellowship, by yourself. We need the Church, we need one another in order to know God.
This is also the message that the 20s & 30s of St. Alban’s have heard me say over and over again. I call my vision for the 20s & 30s, “The Spirituality of the Nomad.” In our world, people of my age are nomads. We spend a few years in one place, then move to another city for a job or a romance, and then it’s off to somewhere else for more school or who knows what. We are nomads. But the good news is that no matter where we go in our nomadic sojourns, the fellowship of the Church will always be our companion. I have told the 20s & 30s many times that while they are here in Waco, they are to utterly throw themselves into the ministry and community of St. Alban’s. And when they leave, we will be sad, not because they’re leaving the fellowship of the Church, but because they are moving on. And so, it’s time for me to practice what I preach.
God has called me to serve as the next rector of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Spring, Texas. Sunday, May 13, will be Maggie’s and my last Sunday at St. Alban’s. We will be leaving this community, probably with a few tears and some sad good-byes. But like the nomads that we are, we will move on to Holy Comforter. Now, we aren’t leaving the fellowship of the Church. That wonderful and sacred mystery is much grander and bigger than we can ever acknowledge. The fellowship of this Church, the fellowship we find in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ spans from the slums of the Dominican Republic, to Waco, and to Spring.
As a sign of this fellowship, in the coming weeks during our Prayers of the People, we will be praying for Holy Comforter. Lord knows they need it (with self-effacing gesture). And Holy Comforter will be praying for St. Alban’s. This is how the fellowship of the Church behaves – we pray for and serve one another, without jealousy or sadness, but with a true, and humble spirit.
This news, coming as its does during Easter, has perfect timing. It is now, during these great fifty days of Easter, that we celebrate the grandeur and magnificence of the fellowship of God. Nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the communion of God and the Church. Just one week ago, we all stood in this church and shouted, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This is more than a stirring proclamation. It is the defiance of death itself. Nothing, absolutely nothing, stands in the way of our communion with God and with one another. Distance, time, generations, separate churches – all of that is counted as nothing compared to the fellowship the Church has with its people and with God.
All of this fellowship and communion has a purpose. We don’t gather to say our prayers in vain. Again, the letter of First John speaks boldly and beautifully about the purpose of Christian fellowship and about the fruits we are to bear. The letter says, “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” Just as we cannot follow Jesus alone, we cannot find joy alone. In order to be truly joyful, to really be happy in this world, we must have the fellowship of God and the Church.
So even though Maggie and I are leaving this wonderful place, we are joyful. We take great joy in the love that we have shared with each one of you. We take great joy in the tasks that we completed together. We have great joy because we lived and experienced the lovely fellowship and communion of St. Alban’s.
Very soon, everything will be unfamiliar. St. Alban’s will be different. Holy Comforter will be different. During this transition, some will look on these two churches and will think of them as foreign. The landscapes will be unfamiliar; but only in outward appearances. The God I worshipped in a tiny seminary chapel in the Dominican Republic is the God of St. Alban’s and Holy Comforter; the God of the Church. It’s only in outward appearances that things are different. What will never change is the fellowship and joy that comes from God.