Monday, August 31, 2009

Jesus and Fellowship

'Fellowship' is an interesting word. Other than its formal and titular use in academic circles, I guess it only really gets used in the church. Even there, I suspect it's misused more often than not. It is a relational word, but more than relational, because when we think of relationships we tend to mean two individuals voluntarily joined in a tenuous way. (Think about how you would represent a relationship in a diagram - perhaps two circles, joined by a line? The circles (people) are still very separate, still distinguishable, whilst the line (the relationship) is thin and joins them only at one particular point). Fellowship is something more than that: it is identifying with the other person, taking their part. It is a connection that recognises fundamental same-ness.

With whom does Jesus have fellowship during his time on earth?

Your first thought might be the disciples. But think about the way he relates to them, or rather the way they relate to him. It's all a little strained, isn't it? They do not understand him, do not 'get' his mission, do not grasp his identity. Read through the gospel accounts of Jesus' life - even when he is surrounded by a crowd, you can't shift the impression that Jesus is alone. He stands apart, even from those whom he has called to be closest to him. He is with us, but not really one of us. In fact, it is only when Jesus is alone that we see him in fellowship - with God his Father, in prayer. One of the most intimate moments is in fact the agony of Gethsemane. The Father is with him; the disciples are sleeping.

Fast-forward to Calvary. Consider Jesus on the cross. With whom does he have fellowship now? I think it is clear that just at this point Jesus has fellowship with the criminals. He is with them, and they are with him. Through them, he claims fellowship with sinful humanity generally. He is with us, as one of us, in our condition. It is not coincidence that just at this point he can no longer claim fellowship with the Father - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The resurrection proves that that loss of fellowship was temporary. He was vindicated by the Spirit, received back into full enjoyment of the fellowship of the Trinity. Did that mean, then, that his fellowship with us, wretched sinners that we are, would be broken? Would there be a parallel movement to the change we saw at the cross?

No. He was delivered up for our sins, but raised for our justification. His fellowship - solidarity, kinship - with us is just as solid as when he died our death on the cross; but now with him we enjoy fellowship with the Father. In him, we are accepted.

1 comment:

  1. That's cool!

    Tangentially, I went to an alcoholics anonymous meeting two weeks ago as part of my psychiatry rotation. It was certainly not recognisably Christian and the participants clearly came from "all faiths and none", but the degree of gospel-derived common grace was astonishing, not least in the "fellowship". A real emphasis on our own impotence to deal with sin=alcoholism which gave a sense of level ground among the members as well as a focus on testimony to changed lives was striking. This gave rise to a very other-person-centred fellowship in which members encourage each other in their quest for sobriety, share their lives outside of meetings, and even engage in AA-evangelism together. Anyway, I only mention it because it's the only time I've really heard the word fellowship used outside the church in a way that means what you mean, and it encouraged me about God's goodness and graciousness to all he has made. Of course AA was begun by Christians, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised...