“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favour with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
For some Christians, this famous Bible quote from the Acts of the Apostles describes the early Church’s first love— and as someone wrote, sometimes the Church has to rediscover that first love.
For other Bible commentators, this image of the early church in Jerusalem is only an ideal; unattainable during our earthly life. The evangelist Luke wrote these words with the eagerness of the Resurrection and Pentecost freshly in mind. Yet, the text has been and still is an inspiration for religious communities old and new: people living and praying together, sharing their gifts and skills to the praise of God; new and old monastic communities, Catholic Worker houses and other intentional communities alike.
Yet anyone who has spent some time in community will know that community life can be challenging as well! And while for some it is healing and empowering, others might wither away if they aren’t careful.
In our different Christian cultures, somehow we have adapted ourselves to accept that what we believe and preach, we cannot always live up to ourselves. We are not always proud of it, but who actually gives away his second coat to the poor? “Anyone who has two coats must share with the person who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Although some people do, and they do more.
But imagine now someone reading this passage for the first time, someone outside our Christian culture for whom just confessing Christ or simply being baptized means the risk of being jailed or condemned to death: these words probably sound like heaven. These Christians probably are forced to live in solidarity with each other as the first Christians in Jerusalem had to.
On my last visit to the refugee camps in Calais, I met a man like that. A rather small man—middle-aged I think—came to me, and asked if he could have a word. He spoke a bit of broken English and referred to himself as a ‘broken man’ and he ‘hadn’t always been like that’. It was almost miraculous how on that day his Google Translate fluently translated from Arabic to French and vice versa. And he added some English words he knew to the conversation. Now he was in the process of claiming asylum in France.
Ahmed was a Kurdish man who came from Iraq, at some time in his life he had converted to Christ and opened up to a relationship with GOD. He was obviously a man who prayed regularly, and he knew the early church in the New Testament. In confidence he said “in Christ we are all brothers” and “we are sheep of the same Shepherd, aren’t we?” I confirmed yes, but was thinking how he is now expecting that I might be able to help him, my brother.
Ahmed challenged my faith with some of his questions and remarks. He was telling me about some of his current struggles. That GOD has always been there for him, but that now he didn’t understand where GOD was leading him. Looking for a safe country, he had been trying to get to the UK, but now decided to stay in France. It puzzled him he had met no Christians. Where were they? Where is that Jerusalem community Luke writes about?
Although, he is not living in Calais anymore, he had come down to the Catholic Day Centre a few times. He said “it is the first time I see you here, where have you been?” while pointing towards my cross and habit (my blue monk’s clothes). I had to explain I live in London, and try to come two days a month. Trying to engage local people, I called one of the Roman Catholic Sisters into the conversation. She proposed he could go to mass on Sunday (as Catholics do) and speak with the priest after.
I knew that wasn’t what Ahmed was looking for. He was looking for the incarnate day-to-day expression of the Eucharist: to gather together (around the table) to thank and praise GOD, to break and share what we have and who we are with each other, as Christ did for us. To be brothers and sisters of the same Good Shepherd. He was looking for Christian community.
It happened that that Sunday was the Sunday of the Good Shepherd, and I had to preach in my community. I didn’t need any inspiration anymore—my sermon on the Good Shepherd was made with this encounter. In my sermon I referred to Ahmed as he who is looking for the Shepherd who brings together people. The Shepherd, who makes the blind see, heals community and redeems. Ahmed was looking for other sheep to share his joys and pains, his faith and to figure out what GOD was calling him to in France. I seriously hope Ahmed finds answers to these meaningful and important questions in his life—and I hope he finds a Jerusalem community to be fully part of.
I love it when people challenge my faith like this, when I am reminded that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and need to take care of each other.
Reflections, music and scripture as well as opportunities for sharing on this World Aids Day online service.
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