‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ Acts 2:42-47
You have to practice, you have to be dedicated, determined, tenacious, you have to work together with someone with whom you may not, at first, get on. You have to be and do all these things if you want to dance with the Royal Ballet. That’s not been everyone’s aim but we know what it is to want to succeed at something whether that’s having the best stamp collection, growing the largest marrow, making the business succeed, bringing up children well, getting a good degree or travelling to every match of a favourite team or every performance of a musical star.
That’s what the word means which St Luke uses to describe the first Christian believers in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. There they were, three thousand of them who knew very little about Jesus yet soon their enemies would describe them as those who have “Turned the world upside-down” (Acts 17:6). Their following of Jesus was full-on, devoted, enthusiastic and committed. Luke tells us they concentrated on four areas in their Christian lives: the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. They are still the basic building blocks of our Christian lives centuries later and yet there is a sadness as I write this because the assumption behind the words is that we can be together and at the moment we can’t. The Covid-19 lockdown means we can’t gather in the Church building to do the things of which Luke speaks. We can’t hear the Word of God read and expounded, we can’t have fellowship together, getting to know each other and make sure each other’s needs are met in the Christian community. We can’t break bread – this lovely phrase is used by Luke to mean both sharing a meal together and sharing the Lord’s Supper, remembering and proclaiming Jesus as He commanded us. We can’t share in “The Prayers” either, in the sense of meeting together and sharing our needs bringing them before God in prayer.
So it’s tempting to think that we put the church on hold. We can’t meet, so there’s not much we can do. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not so much thinking out of the box as thinking out of the building! As the Archbishop of York put it “The church began not in a Church building but in a garden, on a road and in a home.”
So how can we make these verses real in the midst of our current, unusual situation?
The Apostles’ teaching
We are in a much better position than those in New Testament times. They heard the Apostles which would have been fantastic, but then went home. As the gospel spread people became Christians but then the missionaries moved on to other places, then Paul would write back and give them instructions and guidance. We have the Word of God, Holy Scripture in our homes in difference translations, we can get David Suchet reading it on disc, we can hear and see sermons on the net. We are fantastically fortunate, so richly blessed with ways in which we can devote ourselves to the Apostles’ teaching.
For many of us, we have been doing this for years, for others, we may not know where to start. If that’s you, let me help. Start with Luke’s gospel. Set aside fifteen minutes to read half a chapter or so. Ask God to help you understand it and pray in whatever you learn when you have finished. Read it more than once. If you’re like me you might miss the best bits first time through. If there is something you don’t quite understand then email one of the team: the Rector, or David Newman or me and we would love to respond…..when ordained we were given a Bible and told to “Take authority to preach the Word of God” so we will be doing the number one thing for which we were ordained.
The word “koinonia” means sharing. It is not simply a sharing of things when there are those in need, but a sharing of ourselves. In this current lockdown it means ringing folk up to make sure we are all OK and not suffering from loneliness in our isolation. It means, as a community, that shopping is ordered, prescriptions collected and that we all feel ourselves to be children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. It wasn’t that the New Testament church practised a kind of communism, rather that when there was a need someone did something to meet it. Needs were noticed. That is so important isn’t it. None of us like it when we feel ignored or missed out and in the Jerusalem church nobody was.
The Breaking of Bread
Whether it is a cup of coffee, a meal in a friend’s house, going out to a favourite pub, sharing a curry or meeting together round the Lord’s table to share in the Eucharist, Luke’s phrase encompasses it. One of the great struggles some of us have at the moment is why we can’t have Holy Communion. If we can watch a sermon on line and receive the word of God why can’t we watch the Eucharist on line and eat bread and drink wine on our own tables? The fact is that the rules were drawn up in a world which didn’t have the internet and never imagined a lockdown. The Archbishop of Sydney has said that if a family breaks bread at home it might not be a valid Anglican communion service, but he thinks it is a valid Christian one. The point is that we miss being together and so we should. We are in this Christian pilgrimage together. Here’s a thought: On Sunday mornings at 8.30 or 10, whenever you would normally come to Church why not stop, read a passage from the Bible, thank God for Jesus, his death and resurrection and pray for your brothers and sisters in St Bart’s. Pray for the clergy, the organist, the choir, the Verger, the folk you sit next to, the teams who make the coffee and let us BE together even when we are physically apart.
Luke’s word includes what we think of as services but is general enough to include all our prayers. Prayer is our conversation with our heavenly Father. We don’t have to get the words right, we don’t have to pretend we’re perfect but, when we’ve read our Bibles, set aside a few minutes just to talk to God. Share your worries, fears, concerns for family and friends. Pray for the medics, the politicians, the research scientists, the long-distance lorry drivers and those who work in the supermarkets. Pray for the poor. Pray for those for whom isolation means staying in the same home as an abusive partner or parent. Pray for those who are sick and pray for those who are dying that they might be open to God’s redeeming, welcoming love. An atheist has nothing to say at a deathbed. A Christian has the Good News of Jesus.
The ballet practice is over, the hours and weeks have fled by and the performance is here. The curtain rises, the dance is performed and the applause is deafening and new devotees of the ballet are born.
When the Church is the Church….really the Church, then new Christians are born again too.
“The Lord added to their number those who were being saved” Acts 2:47
The Very Revd Robert Key