Year A Proper 18: where two or three

And isn’t this what the church is for? Two or three gathered together to raise up the Divine Presence among them? I don’t mean that the Eucharist is some sort of séance to conjure up the Spirit of Christ.

We know that God is always with us. We know that God’s presence is between and among us and within us; sustaining us, creating and redeeming us. And yet so often we turn our backs, close our eyes, stop up our ears.

I don’t believe that we can shut God out of our lives. But sometimes we shut ourselves away from the knowledge of the love of God, of the peace that passes all understanding. And so from time to time we need to make intentional the effort, the act of opening ourselves up to God, to remind ourselves of the presence of Christ in our lives.

Sometimes it’s painful; sometimes it’s painful to open up, to acknowledge our own sin, to admit our own hurt, and we need company to hold us while we bear the pain. And sometimes it is joyful and we need company for that, too. My late Aunt Joyce told me that the times that she missed my Uncle Ted the most after he died were those evenings when she came in from a wonderful date night with friends, and she came home on top of the world, and there was no one to tell. We need, we look for company in our joys as well as in our sorrows.

We know that God loves us, but we close ourselves off and shut ourselves away like sulky children; like sad and lonely and hurting children; like guilty children; even like happy little narcissistic children, so pleased with ourselves that we don’t feel the need to acknowledge anyone else.

And yet, the commandment to love one another is right up there; it is the corollary, the flipside of the greatest commandment, to love God. And we can never love another alone. We need the other to love.

It’s there at the beginning, in one of our own creation myths: God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone;” and God should know, the one who made all things and saw to it that they were good.

It is not for nothing, it was not for kicks that God became Incarnate, became a person like us; because God knows that we need one another, and that we find God’s presence in those around us, the others made in the divine image. Of course, each of us can pray alone, and we know that God hears us; except when we don’t, except when we are afraid, or guilty, or hurting, or even sometimes when we are joyful; when we need to hear the Amen of another human being. When we need the reassurance of one another’s prayers. We are the symbols of God’s presence to one another, and when two or three are gathered together, on purpose in the name of Christ, we know from one another that he is with us.

I think, perhaps, that this is what our healing prayers are for: that we bring God’s presence to bear on one another, in body and in spirit. When we lay hands on one another, we say, I know that God made (in whatever way I understand that to work); I know that God made my hands. I know that God is present in these hands and I want to use them, these hands, to remind you of God’s presence with you, come what may; of God’s power to heal you, whatever may befall; of God’s love for you, God’s intention to embrace you with an all-encompassing love. We reveal God to one another, by our actions, in our prayers. Where two or three are gathered.

Matthew, in this gospel passage, is concerned about what happens next, about how our communities care for one another in times of conflict or disagreement; when one member sins, because every member will. Hopefully we take turns and don’t all break down at once.

Because Matthew and his church, his community had already realized that this effect, this Christ-effect, this presence lasts longer than the gathering moment, if a true community of Christ can be built.

Think about the Sunday mornings that you are away from this place, or the times that you have been in trouble and have known that there was a community here praying for you. Where two or three are gathered, there Christ is – but he is also known to the one who relies on the community to pray.

I was out on my bike earlier this week, and I had the revelation that ever since I joined the community of riders that participates in the Bishop’s Bike Ride each year, I never feel as though I ride alone any more. I was on my own, vulnerable to all sorts of passing traffic, and subject to all kinds of distractions, but at the back and ground and root of my brain was an awareness of all those people with whom I have shared that fellowship of the road in the name of Christ; people with whom I have prayed and broken bread and broken a few miles of pavement in the process. Once we become part of a community that gathers on purpose in the name of Christ, we are never quite alone again.

But such community and such bonds take work. Matthew talks about the work of repairing breaches; but the first and most basic work is simply showing up for one another, week in and week out; being present to one another in prayer and in spirit and in body; because it was not for nothing that God became Incarnate, became human. It was because we need God standing next to us. We need reminding how close God is to us, how real God’s presence among us, and within us, and between us.

Sometimes, love for one another, love for our neighbour; sometimes love is simply showing up. And when we do, Jesus promises, Christ promises, God promises, so will God.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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