LONGING FOR FELLOWSHIP
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
Here in the Amherst, Ohio area, there are quite a number of family names that point to German decent. Certainly mine does. Also, sprinkled throughout the region are names that “shout” Italian. So, I was intrigued by the thoughts of Lynn Langdon, World Magazine’s Digital Managing Editor, at the end of a number of global reports on COVID-19. To date, next to the United States, Italy has suffered the most casualties of this pandemic.
“Italy’s prime minister told the citizenry that starting Monday (May 4) they can leave their homes to visit close family and friends, or congiunti. “Close” is a relative term in Italy, and congiunti has more to do with heartstrings than bloodlines. It could include godparents, boyfriends or girlfriends, in-laws, and lifelong friends, though the Italian government wants people to stick with congiunti who live in the same region. It has me thinking about my congiunti, which includes church members and neighbors I haven’t seen in weeks. When I imagine how glorious it will feel to reunite with them—and soon, Lord-willing—it makes me think of the even more glorious day when I will finally see my Savior face to face. So, I’m starting May off with this prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
“Congiunti” – In this word we should recognize our English word “conjugal”. It refers to a close or intimate relationship, such as between a husband and wife. The root for both of these words comes from Latin and French, from which much of the Italian language is based. No doubt, all of us look forward to the time when our congiunti will be back to normal; when social distancing will be a thing of the past, and we can again enjoy the physical closeness of family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ. As part of Christ’s body, the church, we have even a deeper relationship through the shared indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We call it “fellowship”.
With the “stay at home regulations”, it could be that some of us may have experienced an increasing sense of loneliness. Even before this pandemic, loneliness was considered an epidemic in our society. The reasons are many: Despite prosperity, souls are empty. (The gospel speaks to that!) A high value is placed on individualism at the expense of close relationships. Our culture is mobile, with family and friends spread out around the country. Even social media on the internet promises to connect people but doesn’t allow them to commune. That’s a word we don’t use often, but it relates to Christian fellowship.
To be fair to the technical wonders of the internet, we have attempted to keep “close” via the Sunday services and Children’s Ministry on YouTube, and the Zoom meetings with Ladies Bible Study, Men’s Breakfast & Bible Study, Youth Ministry, Prayer Meeting, Elders, and church staff. But, we all look forward to communing together again when six-feet-separation and masks are things of the past. A time when we can shake hands, give hugs and pats on the back. A time when we can encourage each other face-to-face. A time when we can share communion together, celebrating Christ’s work on the cross for our salvation. A time when we can physically reach out to our community.
There’s that word again – commune, communion, community – relationship, fellowship, congiunti. We were created for relationship as God’s image bearers. That’s how God made us, to reflect what already existed in the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is a relationship of perfect oneness. Once we come into a relationship with Christ through faith, we enter the family of God, and begin a journey of increasing fellowship with Him. We are no longer alone on a spiritual level. Our eternal relationship with Christ is secure! We can boldly say: “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is the supreme answer to any loneliness we have been feeling during this pandemic. The other answer, of course, is physically fellowshipping together. Doesn’t this sound like the words of Jesus and the Great Commandment? We are to “love God and love our neighbor as ourselves”. Let us pray for both our government, health and church leaders as they attempt to chart a way forward to bring our society back to “normal”. In the meantime, meditate on these words of encouragement.
“…for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b)
“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)