This is the Church

Book of Kells

This is the church I am going to be a part of.

The words crossed my mind as we exited, organ music ringing in the rafters. It is an architectural mix of cathedral and California with its high ceilings and frosted windows letting in the coastal sun. After returning from Oxford, and having been gone from California for nearly 9 months, this place felt like a crossroads of my experience of church in England and my current abode. What a rejuvenation and relief to have a church.

My friend and I shuffle out of the church. My soul gently descending from the power of the last hymn.

Thou of life the fountain art,

Freely let me take of Thee;

Spring Thou up within my heart;

Rise to all eternity.

The last lines of the hymn stick with me. I think every church service plays out a small version of the drama of history. Rejoicing, repenting, praying, receiving. Members before me have lived and died by this rhythm. Saints and martyrs and sinners alike have trod this path of life through grace. And beneath all the ancient rhythms is the tight held hope of coming glory. The cornerstone of the risen Christ.

I look around and laugh to myself as I look at those around me. This church most certainly has a target audience: Students from my university, of the academic bent. I suppose I fit in... sort of. But we are here to love and serve the Lord together.

This is the church I am a part of.

After curry bowls and conversations, Elena and I return to the important task of nail painting. Finally, I sit down to begin my work for the evening, but before, I look at the news. My stomach drops. 21 Christians dead. grief. fear. anger. prayer.

This is the church that I am a part of.

If I allow myself, these stories seem distant and strange. I could separate them from myself, not feel their heaviness in my spirit. But I cannot separate. Their God is my God. As they pray, rejoice, repent and believe, so do I. Together, we rejoice in love and renewal. Together we sorrow in persecution. Together, we wait in readiness for Christ.

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)

This is the church I am a part of.

I went to Ireland last fall. While we were there, I was able to see the Book of Kells. It is the oldest gospel manuscript in Ireland, magnificently illuminated with designs so beautiful one could hardly attribute them to human hands. The Book of Kells came from a time when the monasteries of Ireland, England and Scotland were frequently pillaged and burned by the Vikings. The manuscripts themselves had traveled a great deal due to the fact that, if I recall the exhibit correctly, the abbey at which they were kept was burned down something like 17 times in 50 years. But in that destruction, the monks and scribes preserved and created the beautiful manuscript. The worst happened, but their response was to create one of the most beautiful manuscripts of scripture which, more than a thousand years later, encouraged my own faith.

This is church I am a part of.

Lent begins on Wednesday. Lent is a time of penitence, waiting, withdrawing distractions that we might love God and one another better. Like Advent, in Lent we practice and rehearse the tension of life on earth: awaiting the redemption of our souls. And the redemption of our souls and the restoration of all things is no small hope. Not only that, the church is depicted in Revelation as being gloriously redeemed, all wounds healed, all wounds made beautiful.

This is the church I am a part of.

The world is not redeemed yet, but what unites me with the church I attend, the church I mourn with, and the church that has gone before me, is the pulsing, thriving hope of glory. Our faith is based on the belief that God will make all things new. Therefore, I do not interact with the world based in fear, but in fearsome hope of the renewal of all things. When I encounter darkness, I want to do as the monks and scribes who created the Book of Kells; I want to bring light to darkness, beauty to ugliness, to live in a way that acknowledges the coming hope we truly have. We are the church that, as Jesus said, the gates of hell will not overcome. This is a hope based in God's love; it is a hope that embraces, heals, and endures.

Let us live with fearless love knowing God will redeem all.

This is the church I am a part of.