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The Fellowship of the King3 weeks ago
This week Phil Cansdale of Trinity Churches, Shrewsbury gets us to think about the kind of robust, fellowship, koinonia, the Holy Spirit creates as He builds the church as a new kind of community, the Fellowship of the King, even in a lockdown world.
I’ve been part of a few groups before that have wanted to give themselves a name. It’s always difficult where to begin:
• An amazing group of friends at university called The Care Bears
• I was in a group at vicar school which proudly called itself “the group with no name”
• Another group of church leaders – of larger churches – who called ourselves the “fat vicars”
• One of the youth groups here at Trinity which calls itself “Anon”, which I gather isn’t because they’re anonymous but because they describe how a certain former vicar’s sermons used to go “on and on and on” during the time they would meet!
We’ve been thinking here this week about some of the names the early church used to describe themselves. When the wind of the Spirit is at work in the wills of his people, then just how do you begin to talk about that?
What’s in a name
And we came to this one word which I’m never fully sure how to pronounce but am awestruck when I see it in action. Koinonia. It’s used in Acts chapter 2, and is almost a new Greek word which Luke the writer used to describe what’s going on in God’s new resurrection community. We can translate it in all sorts of different ways. Common. Communal. The warm intimate atmosphere of friends around the bonfire. And it often ends up as “fellowship.”
But here’s the problem. Is it just me, but I hear that word fellowship and immediately think parish fetes and church picnics. I’ve got to be honest, it can sound limper than a piece of lettuce left over at a fellowship lunch.
And yet there’s so much more to that, this gift of the Spirit in the life of the early church. I love how Andy Ollerton puts it in his recent material on the big story of the Bible. Imagine Lord of the Rings, and that amazing book “The fellowship of the Ring” in particular. A mission to complete. A small team of brave companions. Many dangers, toils and snares. Faithful friendship through thick and thin. A love that is loyal and goes the extra mile. A loyalty that risks everything for a greater and a truer cause.
Now that’s more like it. “The fellowship of the King” as it were. The power of the gospel in bringing people together to form a new community, this amazing group of people coming together that first Pentecost whose pasts were redeemed and futures assured because of the work of the Spirit. This original Fellowship of the King.
On hold in an online world?
It’s been truly humbling to see some of the ways in which this has been lived out in the local church these last months, this nearly one year of a lockdown world:
• People rediscovering a love for their neighbours which goes the extra mile
• Friends finding a common cause in prayer and worship and going deeper with God
• People finding new gifts and building up the life of the church in that way
• Others standing alongside each other when things have been at the toughest and darkest, reaching out with love, laughter and lasagne with equal measure
• Others still joining us and joining in online… with the thrill of actually meeting new congregation members still to come!
I think I’m often tempted to think that this sort of fellowship is a thing long past, or somehow “on hold” in an online world. But for all the disappointments, and through the frustrations, koinonia continues to creep out where we least expect it. In the small things. In unseen ways. In unlikely lives. This quiet revolution of the Spirit, this amazing fellowship of the King.
And so – as Paul prays towards the end of 2 Corinthians – may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.” This movement of the Spirit who breaks down barriers and builds community. This Spirit who brings us together even in lockdown when two metres may divide us and social distancing keeps us apart. But nothing can separate us from the love of God.
May that grace, that love, and – yes – that fellowship be yours, and all those whom you serve and lead. Amen.
Revd Phil Cansdale