Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sibling Care in the Community of Faith

"No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother" (St. Cyprian, died A.D. 258).

Why such a drastic emphasis on the Church by such early church fathers? Cyprian was not the product of an overbearing Roman Catholic Church, for the abuses of power that the Protestant Reformers reacted to occurred well over 1,000 years after him. Indeed for Cyprian to have written thus about the Church prior to even the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) explains the unity of the Church affirmed in the Creed: "And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church." What, therefore, did St. Cyprian know that some, who today find church to be "optional," do not know?

There is a great deal that we might argue Cyprian knew that many today are ignorant of, but significant among these is the manner that brothers and sisters in Christ support one another in Christian fellowship. It would be cliche' to insert a sports analogy here, but the universal principle is that humans are designed to be communal creatures. The archaeological record reveals a oft-repeated evolution of hunter-gatherer bands into more and more complex societies. Strength of numbers help people to survive dangers of predators, repel attackers and weather environmental change. Technologies of agriculture, dwellings and tribal defense all develop in sophistication along with population numbers. People have, historically, seen it as more to their advantage to be together than alone.

How is it then, that many in current society (particularly in Christian circles) would think it advantageous to proceed through spiritual life having only a "personal experience," or worse, avoiding church commitment altogether? Imagine a duck saying to Dr. Doolittle, "Of course, I'm a duck. I swim, fly, quack and waddle. I just prefer to be on my own. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of organized flight or "flocking" in streams and lakes together. To be honest, I'm uncomfortable around ducks. None of them seem to quack exactly like I do. And besides, flying together seems to make it easier for the hunters. I know you haven't seen me around other ducks at all, but I really am a duck - honest."

This point was driven home to me just this morning in church. The image above is of my daughter and youngest son. I sat behind them because the five in our family can hardly fit into the pew, and with all our stuff really makes it cramped. At one point, as the priest was preparing the communion table elements, Jessica spontaneously reached over and hugged Elijah. This sibling support was so wonder to behold. Un-coached by my wife or me, the older sibling decided to offer support to the younger one, and he accepted it. These sort of "living pictures" occur frequently in a church adept at trafficking in symbolism.

This type of "sibling care" is one of the essential characteristics of the Church. How could one imagine missing out on the arena wherein such beautiful lessons occur? No wonder Cyprian would consider that the organic nature of the Body of Christ renders the one who is disinterested in Christ's Body to be likewise disinterested in Christ. Indeed since the fellowship of faith is such a favored instrument of the Spirit, one can justifiably ask if the one disinterested in fellowship truly has the Spirit. This notion need not be taken to the extreme of assuming that merely because one has planted their butt in a pew before they can be assured of eternal life. However, neither must one use the straw man of "faith by osmosis" to reject the importance of Church commitment. While is it true that he is not a soldier who has merely bought a uniform at a Army surplus store, he also is not a soldier that has not joined the Army.

All this to offer theological context to the beauty of sibling support observed in front of me this morning. I hesitated to take the picture, thinking it potentially irreverent (and possibly rude) to take a picture with the camera/phone while worship is in progress. I had not asked permission of the priest in advance, who justifiably might have instructed me not to out of respect for the sacred occasion. However, the spontaneity of seeing my two children support one another in the midst of worship was just too pleasing. I had to capture it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the siblings of faith in the covenant community, support, uphold, embrace, console, challenge, direct, comfort and carry one another under one Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such pictures of love and sibling affection warm the heart, for they offer a window into one of the chief missions of the Church for which Christ died and rose again.

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