Yesterday I moved from the apartment I was sharing in Zaventem to one in Brussels city centre. In this one, I have the place to myself so I’m not imposing on others (although I couldn’t have been made more welcome in my first digs) and it gives more space when the family come over on holiday. I should have been really pleased getting ‘my own place’ (and I am), but it was tinged with some sadness when I closed the door on the place as the person who had given me a lift left to head home. In fact, truth be told, I felt lonely. Yes, I’ve been keeping in touch by phone and skype and that helps, but it’s just not the same.
Just last week, Andrew (my supervisor) and I were reflecting on ministry being a ‘lonely’ job. We are entrusted with many life stories, cares and concerns, not all of which can be readily shared with a trusted friend. And the problem is, many of them are heavy burdens to bear. Many of them are personally challenging. And many of them strike to the root of our understanding of our faith. Having someone else to share our thoughts and concerns with, even if only at a relatively superficial level, is an enormous benefit. Now, it would be easy to say that God is there to share our burdens with, and I’d never deny that. But we’re made to share with one another as well. Our relationship with God is imperfect and never will be perfect this side of resurrection (word chosen carefully). But then, our relatinships with one another are far from perfect and face the same limitations. But they are what we have and when we don’t have them, we miss them and are so much the poorer for that.
I was able to sit in, recently, on a confirmants ‘class’. As it was the last one it was a summary of all that had been done previously and a reminder of the vows that were going to be taken. One of those vows is tha promise to join regularly in corporate worship and Christian fellowship. I was asked for a contribution at this point and spoke about our need for relationship with others. This, surely, is the root of our claim to be made in God’s image. We are made to be in relationship, with God and with each other. The Trinity is the very model of that. On a recent visit, I heard about past broken relationships and others that had had to be reconsidered. So much of how we relate to others affects so much of our life and the lives of others and we can never know the full consequences of what we do. Mind you, if we did, we’d probably want to live in isolation for fear of what might happen.
This all sounds a bit gloomy and ‘heavy’ but maybe that’s just the mood I’m in at the moment. But of course there is a positive. Perhaps the single most awesome consequence of Christ’s death and resurrection is that of restoration of relationships. Forget ‘going to heaven’, forget ‘sin being forgiven’. forget ‘the price being paid’ (well, don’t but you get the point). All of these are about removing the obstacles in our relationship with God. Not perfected yet, but certainly the signed, sealed and delivered guarantee for the future. But, even better (in a sense), is the beginning of restoration now – with God and with one another (let’s hear it for inaugurated eschatology). No ‘guilt-trips’ about doing our best for God – after all, look what He’s done for you. Just the ultimate example of love healing the most fractured of relationships and through that, a sense of worth and value and inclusion which can only (surely) result in a response of love, to God and to each and every part of God’s creation which He loves enough to save.
So, a glorious promise, intended for the now as much as anything, but, at the moment, highlighting that being alone is not a comfortable place.