How good and pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)
Last year we planned a number of church walks over the Easter weekend, which sadly had to be cancelled because of the first lockdown. However, a few weeks before then I had the chance to try out one of them in East Sussex. At lunchtime, in Alfriston, I came across this plaque in a lane off the main street. At first, I found it rather amusing, but thinking about it further made me very sad.
Relationships break down in many different ways and contexts. And church communities - and even our own church family - are no exception. In some ways this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, churches are full of sinners. We may be forgiven sinners who are being transformed by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, but we still trip up along the way. Both consciously and unconsciously, we manage to say and do things which reveal just how much we’re still a work in progress.
St Paul often focuses in his writings on how Christians should get along with each other. He is acutely aware of what human nature is like, and the battles we face to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit rather than the works of the flesh. He encourages the believers in Ephesus to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Jesus God has forgiven them. And his wonderful passage on love, often used as the reading at weddings, was written to the church in Corinth as very practical and down-to-earth guidance on how to show attitudes and actions that promote harmony among them.
So, what does this look like in practice? Well, it means things like taking the initiative to mend broken relationships rather than assuming it’s the other person’s responsibility, having the humility to recognize we do make mistakes, thinking the best of others and being compassionate towards them and their failings, and sorting things out quickly rather than leaving them to fester. Our celebration of Easter this past weekend has reminded us again of the magnitude of what Jesus has done for us. And as people who have been forgiven so much, we are called in turn to forgive others, and to seek to live in peace with everyone.
Thank you, Lord, for the joy of knowing your forgiveness and for the gift of eternal life. Help us to express our gratitude by living at peace with others, and being quick to pursue reconciliation and healing when things go wrong. Amen