Surrounded: The Communion Of The Saints
Every Sunday we join together in affirming our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. At one point in that creed we say: “I believe in the communion of the saints.” What does that mean?
The word communion simply means “being together” or “being in the presence of”. The word “saints” means “those who are members of the church.” So the phrase means that we are in the presence of, we are surrounded by, and we have contact with those who make up the Church of Jesus Christ. But let’s spell that out a bit more clearly…
In the first place, as Christians, we are surrounded by the God who is the head of the Church.
There are many words in Scripture used to describe God’s people—servants, soldiers, ambassadors. But my favorite word used to describe the people of God is the word “friend.” Jesus said in John 15,” I do not call you servants, I call you friends.” We are the friends of God. Now some people have a hard time digesting that thought. They cannot imagine being on a friendship basis with the Creator of everything that is. H. B. Wells, in one of his novels, portrays a businessman who is collapsing under the pressure of his work. The man’s minister encourages him to seek some quiet time to pray to God. The man replies: “What? Talk to that up there? Why I would just as soon cool my throat with a drink from the milky way or shake hands with a star.” A lot of people are like that. They think God is too big, too vast, too powerful to have anything to do with the likes of us.
Well, the testimony of God says otherwise. God in His Word tells us that we are His friends. God through His Son tells us that He is so involved in each one of our lives that He knows the very number of hairs in our heads. Doctors tell us that the average person loses about 60 hairs a day. That’s incredible, isn’t it? Of course for some of us it means that we are rapidly headed toward a deficit position. But what I want you to grasp is that God not only keeps up with the head count of His people, He even keeps up with the hair count! In other words, God is so deeply concerned about us as individuals, He is so involved in our lives, He is so totally surrounding us with His Spirit, that no aspect of our lives is insignificant or unimportant to Him.
So we come to this table because He invites us to come as His friends. Here He binds up our wounds. Here He frees us from our sins, and here He wipes away our tears. Here we are surrounded in a special way by the presence of God.
In the second place, as Christians, we are surrounded by those who are in the church on earth.
In Scotland, before they have communion, the elders of the church visit in the homes of the members to examine them as to their commitment to Christ and their growth in Him. If the examination is deemed successful, then the person is given a token or a card which will gain for that person admission to the Lord’s table.
Now that process of allowing certain people to come to the table and denying others the right is called “fencing the table.” It is based on a verse in 2 Corinthians where our old Bibles read: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.” On the basis of that verse, the Church of Scotland is careful to see that no one comes to the table who is deemed unworthy. However, in recent years, we have gathered new manuscript evidence which indicates that our old Bibles translated the verse wrong. The verse actually reads: “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” The phrase “of the Lord” was added after “body” some several hundred years after the inspired text was originally written down. In other words, the meaning of the verse is this: those who do not understand, preserve and protect the unity of the Body, which is the Church, are those who have no place at the table.
That is why in this church we never fence the table. We invite all to come. We deny no one the right. We do not keep anyone away from the table because we know that it is the Lord’s table, not ours. Therefore, we welcome all. We do not rupture the unity of the Body. The only sin which is not permitted to come to this table is the sin of saying that someone else doesn’t have the right to be here. This table is the one place on earth where all the dividing walls which separate people from each other are broken down. This table is the one place in all the world where true peace is made. This table is the one place in all of the world where national, political, economic, personal, and even religious differences are set aside and all people stand on equal footing, in true unity and peace.
There are people you see who believe in ignoring those who are different. There are people who believe in killing the wounded. We do not. We believe in wrapping everyone in the arms of love. We believe in helping the wounded. We do that best here at this table. We are all different from one another. Yet here we are all one. We are surrounded by those who are in the church on earth.
In the third place, as Christians, we are surrounded by those who are in the church in heaven.
Now this is a great mystery but we must speak of it. Those whom we have lost awhile, our loved ones gone on to heaven before us, are still ours. We have fellowship with them still. They are part of the communion of the saints. In Hebrews 12 we read: “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” The picture is of an amphitheatre. We are down on the floor of the amphitheatre, down in the arena, still fighting the battle. But those saints who have died are gathered all about in the seats. They are cheering us on. They fought the good fight; they finished the race; they kept the faith—now they are encouraging us to do the same.
That means that the brainpower of Paul is still ours. The sweet compassion of St. Francis is still ours. The great social concern of John Calvin is still ours. The evangelistic fervor of D. L. Moody is still ours. God does not preside over some celestial graveyard. There are living souls in heaven. And they have not lost interest in us. Don’t think for a moment that your mother or your father or your husband or your wife or your son or your daughter who has gone on to heaven loves you any less. They are surrounding you and pouring into you love and joy and courage for your living. You see, we are united in the church, not physically, but spiritually. And while the body dies and we physically pass away, the spirit lives on.
My friends, there is a lot of evil in the world, unspeakable evil, immeasurable evil. Sometimes when we confront it, it awes us and we wonder how we can combat it. What we must always remember is that we are engaged in a cosmic conflict. That means that not only the church militant, the church here, but the Church Triumphant, the church there, is battling against evil in the world. We must never forget those regiments camped on the other side of the hill. They are with us, looking to Jesus who is the pioneer and the perfector of our faith. Christians, forty centuries of the saints stand with us and look down upon us, cheering us on. And you must be a sluggish soul indeed if that does not lift you and encourage you and inspire you.
When we come to this table we are surrounded by God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are surrounded by one another, united together by bonds of love and faith which cannot be broken. And we are surrounded by our loved ones whom we have lost only for a little while. All of that is what we mean when we say: “I believe in the communion of the saints.”