Being Church

Gilles Côté

           Much of my understanding of what it means to be "church" comes from my experience of married life or rather of living out the sacrament of marriage. Two incidents in the past will serve as a springboard in my attempt to explain what I mean by this.
           When Diane and I announced our intention to marry, there were speculations about how long the marriage would last. Many of our relatives and friends were convinced that she and I were too different in personality and background. Divorce, they were convinced, was inevitable. We have now been married for over 30 years.
           When my youngest daughter was 3 years old, she solemnly declared: "God loves us forever." When she was asked how she knew this, she said, with the assurance of someone who has never heard of divorce statistics, "My mom and dad love each other, and that's forever."
           When I now reflect on these events, I must admit that I agree with those who assumed that the distance between my wife and I was so great that our marriage should not have worked -- but it did. I also agree with my daughter's assessment of God's love and I believe that it is this love which made it possible for Diane and I to overcome the distance that should have divided us.
           Paul's words to the Gentiles in Ephesus could very well be applied us as a couple:
           "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (Eph 2: 13-14)
           The Church is also a communion of individuals who are bound together by a love that reconciles the irreconcilable:
           "...while we were ennemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son" (Rm 5:10) In being thus reconciled and "brought near" to God, we are also brought near to one another.
           A second aspect of our married life has also colored my understanding of church. The love that united us turned us outward. Not only did we have children, but an incessant flow of people became part of our lives. There was always someone who needed a friend, a meal, a bed, a home. These were sometimes relatives, but most often strangers. Some became close friends of the family, others passed through our lives briefly never to be seen again. This was not something that we had planned or thought out ahead of time. It just happened. The love that united my spouse and I was bigger than just the two of us. It needed to reach out and embrace others. This was not always easy and we were sometimes tempted to push back certain people. The "other", after all, is a potential ennemy as well as a potential friend.
           In the same way, the love that unites the members of the church should turn them outward. In the New Testament, the text that speaks to me most of this dimension of the church is Matthew 25: 34-40. The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoners are potential enemies. Their weakness is threatening. They are the ones who are "far off" who need to be "brought near". The love that unites the members of the church needs to be "forever", without end, always pushing the boundaries to allow the ennemy to become friend. The church is entrusted with the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18). This implies bringing people to God, but also allowing the love of God to break down the dividing walls and bring Shalom where there once was only division and enmity. ©Gilles Côté, 2002