‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer […] And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ Acts 2:42, 47b
Brothers and sisters, this week we have begun to see some signs that we are making our way through this lockdown. The Prime Minister has indicated we have passed the peak, and said that he will lay out the way forward for our nation this coming Thursday. As we contemplate life on the other side of lockdown it is only right that we think afresh about who we are, why we gather, and how God is calling us to serve our community. Indeed, just this week the diocese has asked us to think on these things. Life will be different after Covid, there will be a ‘new normal’ to many aspects of life, and we hope we have all learnt much through this difficult time. It is only correct then, that we re-consider our church life along with everything else. And as though it were planned - by God at least - the set reading for the Church of England today focuses our attention on the fundamentals of the Church.
Read again, the passage above in italics, and you will see as the early Church gets going the three basic tasks of the Church: (1) she evangelises and disciples those around her; (2) she serves the poor; (3) and she worships God.
First, the Church ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,’ that is proclaimed the Faith, they spoke of what they had seen, and they studied the Hebrew Scriptures together. They realised from the beginning that the Christian Faith is not primarily a philosophy or a set of truthful statements (though it includes both), rather the Faith is first and foremost a relationship to a person, to Jesus Christ. And so, the apostles share the Good News with those who don’t know, and they strengthen those who already believe by devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching. This is a basic, fundamental, task of the Church, and we have tried to find ways during this lockdown to continue this task of the Church through these reflections, through reading the Scriptures for ourselves, and by reading and recommending good Christian books.
Second, the Church ‘devoted themselves […] to fellowship,’ that is taking care of the Christian family of which they were are a part, and seeking to encourage and help each as they had need. If you read the section of Acts of which 2:42 is but a small part you will see just what this looked like (v44): ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need’. The Christian life is NEVER an individual affair. We’re NOT members of an organisation, we are members of a family. We are to love each other, and take care of one another in concrete and practical ways. We should never say ‘that’s your problem not mine’. The early Church, as it were, put her money where her mouth was and took care of one another; and then saw this generous and communal life flow out to the rest of the community. In doing so they witnessed to the truth of their evangelising words. This too is a basic, fundamental, task of the Church, and we have tried to find ways during this lockdown to continue this task, and indeed I have heard lots of stories of how this has been happening, and how people have felt supported and loved by the church family.
Third, the Church ‘devoted themselves […] to the breaking of bread and to prayer,’ that is to worshipping God especially in their celebration of the Eucharist (breaking bread). The Eucharist is the Jesus-given way of remembering His death, and participating in His risen life. The Eucharist is the way in which we are healed, strengthened, and equipped for the other two basic tasks, so that coupled with daily prayer, we are able to carry out the mission which God has given us. Finally, then, this too is a basic, fundamental, task of the Church and whilst we have tried to encourage each other to prioritise our individual daily prayers, the fact that we have not been able to gather together to share in the ‘breaking of bread’ has been hard for us all.
Here, in the reading for today, we have the three basics tasks of the Church. As we think afresh about our church life after the pandemic, these three tasks MUST stay central to all we do, even as we consider fresh ways in which we partake of them. As we listen to the PM on Thursday then, and as we prepare for the ‘new normal’ let us reflect upon how we can engage in the three basic tasks of the Church. As we do let each one of us reflect on whether or not we have been DEVOTED to these tasks in the past, or whether we have merely been going through the motions. And when we return to our church building, let us devote ourselves to ‘the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ and pray that such devotion to the basics would lead to a closer walk with Jesus for each one of us, and consequently that the Lord would once again add ‘to [our] number daily those who were being saved.’ Amen. (from Rev. Mike)