"From a distance, you look like my friend,
even though we are at war,
From a distance, I can't comprehend,
what all this fighting's for".
I don't know what the festive season has been like for you, but for many it's something of a wasteland. Normal life shuts down for a series of weeks, regular events just aren't there, and, in many cases, there are no close connections these days to replace them, so the pain of loneliness can set in, or the "virtue" of self-reliance can become so necessary, that it can leave some wondering why you need others anyway.
This time of year always gets me asking hard questions, especially in regards to how the next year might be better; how our peace with God in Christ can impact upon our life together, particularly to address some of the ailments touched on above.
This leads to the issue of fellowship, or, as it's defined in Greek, koinonia.
We'll seek to unpack that a little in a moment, but before savoring that dish, let's think about the image of the church given in Acts 2:42-47 - a community devoted to life together focused around Apostolic teaching and the breaking of bread, the Lord adding to their number those being saved. Perhaps we are fortunate enough to attend a church that has a similar focus (God's word in the Gospel and the Sacraments), but there's something staggering here - this wasn't just for Sundays (and perhaps a mid-week meeting!) - these people were meeting this way, living this way daily (verse 46).
Now of course, it couldn't last. Pretty soon events unfolded (Acts 5-7) that effectively broke up the astonishing life of those first few weeks, but that doesn't mean that the image we're given here should be lost. In the book of Hebrews, for example, we're told to exhort one another daily to remedy falling away from what counts (Hebrews 3:13), so once again, we clearly have the teaching that "church" should be more than just the scheduled events. That brings us back to the matter of fellowship.
The word used in the New Testament is rich indeed. It was used to speak of the binding of marriage and the most important legal or business contracts. It's root also defines living together in the sense of sharing a life that is common and communal through genuine participation.
The closest that some of us have to this in our natural lives is being part of a family, and that's a helpful picture in the sense that it's a pretty mixed experience in most cases - some great things, perhaps, but equally some difficult if not trying times of seeking to genuinely become someone alongside others who can be helpful and awkward. Fellowship for us, then, is about becoming closer to all those involved - God, present among us in Christ, and one another, not in a fashion that's over-bearing, but bears the marks of what Paul tells us is 'the better way' in 1 Corinthians 13.
What each of us, and the rest of the world, need is to be truly enfolded in the richness of the love of God so that we can show and share that love through each aspect of our lives, both as a church, and as those savoring everlasting life in everything we do.
It's easy to so often become bogged down in the functional side of things, and thereby miss what really counts in being part of a community, but our gathering together should always help us to see God's love afresh, depicted before us, in word and sacrament, in our fellowship in the cross of Jesus Christ. That alone is the source and the means whereby we are truly renewed and bound together.
It's tempting to distinguish distinct realms - the sacred and the secular - and thereby to cordon off parts of life as 'ours' - it may even seem expedient to do so on occasions like the 'dead season' of this time of year, but Jesus won't in truth allow us to do that. He comes to dine with us at table - to truly know us in our lives 'behind closed doors' as much as when we're singing in church, because His love alone transforms and changes everything (which is why we need both our gathering together and His life and word at the heart of that).
Life, of course, gets pretty messy for us poor wretches, but the important priority for the days ahead should be to help each see God in Christ afresh. Because we congregate, share and give in that light, of God saving us in the death and life of His beloved Son, we will have true fellowship in the redeeming grace given to us in Him.
That sounds like something worth taking on board this year.