By Robert Norton
I once heard an old black pastor say, “If you want to have a meeting and it’s not over food, that’s called an email!” Not long after, someone interjected, “that brother’s in the book!” There’s something to be discovered, a reality to enter, when community is cultivated around a hot plate. I don’t believe it is happenstance that communion with God and his people was displayed to the disciples through Jesus around a dinner table. At the Lord’s table, his bride is united. The love of God demolishes her dividing lines (Eph 2:14). So, if Christ unifies the church, how might the church live into this blood-bought reality?
I have been experiencing this unity through theological training at Emmaus Theological Seminary. A requirement of the student body at Emmaus is to participate in a Communio Intensive at the end of every semester, where students and faculty gather, share meals, sing songs, pray over one another, listen to instruction, and refresh their souls. This intensive reflects one of ETS’s core values of embodied formation. A part of what makes this gathering so formational is the representation of diverse church backgrounds and traditions represented.
A seminary education rooted in God’s life-giving love should sharpen theological convictions and cultivate charity for the brother or sister with whom the seminarian does not always see eye to eye. Something is dreadfully wrong when a seminary education leaves one more hostile toward another who bears the name of Christ. The Communio Intensive proves that unity is not found in tribalism but in a reconciled life shared with one another because of Jesus.
This type of repentance reminds me of the words of Jesus when he gives instructions to those who aspire to follow him: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it (Mark 8:34-35 NRSV).” I believe that God is restoring his witness in his beloved bride. Lesslie Newbigin in his book The Household of God says, “A gospel of reconciliation can only be communicated by a reconciled fellowship.”
While we are awaiting Christ’s return to make all things right, let us not abandon our assigned post, but be found faithful in our waiting. My prayer is that the church can cry, “come, Lord Jesus!” in unison, no longer disembodied. The good news is that our good Lord is already at work in his people and won’t stop until his return. The church is made for unity. May we say yes to this precious invitation.
Robert Norton is a proud born and raised Clevelander. Rob is a husband to his wife Carliany and a father to his son Zaidyn. He currently is a minister for a parachurch ministry called City Life where he serves teens in Cleveland’s inner-city westside. He is a student at Emmaus Theological Seminary where he is studying for the bachelor’s of divinity to master’s of ecclesial theology track. Follow Rob on Instagram and Twitter @FromRobNor
Photo by Spencer Davis