The character of a Christian community
Of all the passages of Scripture that we listen to I think we find the Beatitudes perhaps the most beguiling. The imagery it paints, with Jesus surrounded by the disciples speaking to the crowds instinctively creates an atmosphere of calmness. This calmness belies the reality of what must have been a rather noisy and rumbustious ascent to the mountain top. Why do we find it so compelling?
I suppose if you were to set about attempting to define the character of the ideal Christian community, then certainly the Beatitudes seem to encapsulate that essence. Those eight sayings with their affirmation of the qualities which make up the kingdom of heaven, bring into our thoughts so many aspects of the Christian way of life which we hope to live out ourselves. Going through them one after the other, quantifies for us how we are to respond to the call of Christ to make the kingdom as real on earth as it is in heaven. So just how do we see each one? How do we, in this little patch of the kingdom, look to make present a blessedness which is real, active and relevant?
The only way we can is by directing our lives to the call to holiness which has been planted in each of us by the grace of baptism. The Beatitudes are not passive acclamations, but active demonstrations of how God’s love is made real and put into practice. They are couched in a way which delivers an exclamation of joyful recognition, that these qualities are ongoing and happening to us and for us, by the very people we live alongside. Seeing the crowds, Jesus begins to teach them something about themselves, and they can sense the truth of each saying, as the impact of each one begins to sink in to their minds.
And so it is with us and our community of the faithful here in Wollaton. As we look around our parish, we feel and sense our closeness to those around us, and in this closeness we appreciate the meaning of what it is to live in a poverty of spirit, as the gift of grace is poured into us with an abundance, to be shared and passed on. We cherish the gentleness of a kind gesture, and a welcoming hand. We see that those who mourn are comforted, and we are full of admiration and thanks for those who strive to ensure that the justice and peace of Christ is tangible to those who are denied it. In the daily acts of mercy which are exchanged and reciprocated between husband and wife, parent and child, we find a font love which flows from pure hearts made in the image and likeness of God. With these hearts, God builds his kingdom with peacemakers who challenge us daily to confront the wrongdoing which distorts the cause of truth. All of this is happening amongst us and between us, and for the most part we don’t appreciate that it is taking place. But this is what our faith calls us to be, and the world we will not have it. The corollary is that Jesus will climb another hill and the crowds will cry out “he saved others, let him save himself. “
The abiding character of a Christian community is its blessedness, its holiness, its readiness to fulfil the call to witness even though we may end up being verbally abused or treated with indifference, as the ninth and ultimate Beatitude tells us we surely will. Consequently, we know that saints don’t arrive from out of thin air, nor do they appear perfectly formed off any production line. Saints come from living and breathing communities where they grow up experiencing the blessedness and holiness of ordinary folk. Through them, they feel the presence of the kingdom around them. Look around and you’ll see it all unfolding before your very eyes.