A Great Communion! Reflections

Yesterday somewhere around 600 of us gathered at Rochester Church of Christ to celebrate the Lord's Supper in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address. What a sight -- 600 of us, from across the Stone-Campbell Movement, Disciples, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Church of Christ, sharing in the Great Communion. We sang with instruments and without instruments. And then we fellowshipped. I want to thank my two clergy partners -- Patrick Mead and Steve Martin -- and everyone else who participated, from elders to musicians. What a day.

Each of the three pastors took a text and spoke briefly to it. I wrote mine out, but was overwhelmed by the moment and largely spoke extemporaneously. I do have my written reflections -- so I will share them here.


Meditation on John 17:20-24

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

We come here today, representing three branches of the same family, to celebrate an anniversary. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Campbell looked at his neighborhood, and discovered that the church of Jesus Christ was divided. In response to this situation, he published a document that laid out a vision for a movement that would advocate for the unity of Christ’s church. Campbell wrote in the Declaration and Address:

That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians. (Prop 1).

He went on to say that division among Christians was evil and anti-Christian, because it destroys the visible body of Christ (Prop 10). Our movement was born from that vision, but too often we have failed to heed that vision and have fallen into division.

Campbell’s vision of Christian unity was rooted in his reflections on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples as found in John 17. There in the garden, having already shared one last meal with his disciples, and according to John, had washed their feet as a sign of service to others, he contemplates his future. Death is waiting for him – he knows that – but in his moment of anguish his concern is for his companions in ministry. He prays that they might be one, even as he and the Father are one, so that the world might believe in him through their witness. He prays that those who believe might share in God’s glory, so that they too might share in the son’s union with the Father. And again the reason is given – so that the world might “know that you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.”

There is an old song that we like to sing – it says “they will know we are Christians by our love.” That is the message of this afternoon’s service. It is a reminder that the world will know God’s love, through our love of one another, and our love for the world. John’s gospel says that God sent the son out of love for the world (John 3:16). And we read in 1 John that God is love, and those who abide in God, abide in love. (1 John 4:7-21).

It’s unfortunate that too often we Christians fail to heed this call to love one another, because when the world sees our rancor and division, it chooses not to abide in God’s presence. Today, however, as we gather at the table, we can bear witness to this vision proclaimed boldly by Thomas Campbell, 200 years ago, on what was then the American frontier, that we are one in Christ.


John said…
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John said…
A great worship service.

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