Do you have a tribe, clan, or club that you either have, or continue, to feel loyalty and allegiance to? I bet you do. For my part I feel allegiance to my family clan – we have a group on Facebook Messenger called ‘the Clan,’ to Northampton Saints, and to England Rugby. I also feel a huge sense of allegiance with this church; I am deeply invested in it. All of these allegiances shape my identity in some way. They all give purpose and meaning to my life.
But none of these can be ultimate, or eternal, allegiance or identity shapers. I might long for all of these allegiances to be fulfilling, and I do, and especially my family allegiances, but my long-term identity is surely to be found in Christ. Being ‘in Christ', is, and must be for a Christian, our ultimate Be- Longing. In the gospel we have heard Jesus tell his critics that they cannot ‘belong’ because they do not ‘believe.’ Believing it seems begets belonging, that’s why saying, or singing, the creed every week as the juncture between the ministry of the word and ministry of the sacrament is so important. We affirm the essence of our faith, our core beliefs before we share in our communal meal; the sacrament that binds us together as God’s ‘Holy Communion of people.’
Jesus, you see, offers something far more profound than the joys of Northampton Saints winning the odd match, or even the cup. He offers a real sense of belonging, the satisfaction of our deepest desires and newness of life. He offers real meaning, real purpose, real nourishment, real friendship and the integrity of union with God. Jesus says that ‘the Father and I are one.’ The greatest of gospel offers is that we are invited into full participation in this union, or ‘Holy Communion.’
The writer Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it like this: ‘holiness is the union we experience with one another and with God. Holiness is when more than one become one, when what is fractured is made whole. Singing in harmony, breast feeding a baby, collective bargaining, dancing, admitting our pain to someone and hearing them say ‘me too.’ Holiness happens when we are integrated as physical, sexual, emotional and political beings. Holiness is the song that has always been sung, perhaps even the sound that was first spoken when God said ‘let there be light.’’
I love this because it makes it clear that holiness, or the decision to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is for the whole of life, not just church life. As the Christian poet and hymn writer George Herbert phrases it, holiness must be a ‘seven whole days not one in seven’ saturation. We should also expect that following the Good Shepherd may lead us into some highly unexpected pastures. But the great news is that where we go, we go as members of the flock, not as atomised separate and isolated individuals; we go in unity, in communion. And this sense of unity isn’t just for now. Instead, as the reading from Revelation makes clear, it is eternal. When we belong to Jesus, when we allow him to be the Good Shepherd, he will satisfy our desire to Be-Long.
We are graced with a foretaste of that sense eternal belonging each and every week as we gather for the Eucharist, where we dine with the ‘Angels, Archangels, and All the Company of Heaven,’ and where, like them, we sing of ‘blessing and honour and glory and power.’ Hold on to that vision and let it give you hope and a sense that you do indeed truly Be-Long. In the meantime let the word of God dwell richly in your hearts and let it transform you into the very likeness of Christ. Take confidence from the example of St. Peter who just a few short weeks ago was to be found denying his friend, his master and his Lord and yet, having made the decision to renew his love for Jesus and to follow him now finds himself doing improbable things in unexpected places. Peter is able to raise Dorcas from apparent death, doing an improbable thing in an unexpected place (the Temple – think of the venue for his denial of Jesus), for the simple and straightforward reason that he, Peter, is now fully alive; he knows where his primary allegiance lies and where his true identity is to be found. Peter is fully alive because he has made the decision to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who says to all who believe: ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand,’ they Be-long.
Can I invite you to reflect on these words this week, and let them penetrate your very soul?