Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. –Ephesians 5:21
Paul writes the sentence above to exhort the Ephesians to a new way of relating. He immediately proceeds to exhort husbands and wives, in particular, to relate in that new way as married people, to have sex like that, to form families suffused with mutual respect and fidelity, just like Jesus relates to the church and the church relates back. I think Paul presumes (wildly assuming the presence of the transforming Holy Spirit, as he is wont to do!) that most of the believers to whom he is writing know how Jesus and the church relate, so he can boldly exhort people to apply the example to their marriages and to other relationships in the body.
Such love is a struggle
We’ve been struggling to be that deep as we ponder living in mutual submission as a covenant people who call themselves Circle of Hope. It all came into focus when we talked about the Love Feast this past fall among our leadership team and then at our discerning retreat. Oddly enough, the Love Feast had become a very popular public meeting! People would invite their mother, their unbelieving friends, people would wander in off the street. We were not sure what to do with that.
In some ways it was kind of great. It is exciting to think that people are interested in looking at Christians making love at their covenant members celebration. But it was also kind of creepy to have people looking in, being invited into the intimacy of communion when they don’t even believe, even being called on during the event to accept people into a covenant they don’t intend to make. I suppose that since we put up all our intimate pictures on Facebook these days and invite strangers to look at them (that is, until we understand the privacy controls – which I don’t), we are kind of comfortable with public “intimacy.” And I suppose that since so many of us have sex with random people and spend a couple of years living with our spouse before we marry them, we don’t have a great deal of respect left for the boundaries of covenant.
So what about the Love Feast?
So we did not know what to do about the Love Feast. On one hand, by being so public about it, we invited people to drink the blood and enter the covenant circle when they had no idea what they were doing. Paul says this could make a person spiritually ill, handling spiritual things one has no business handling! On the part of the covenant members, it might be something like leaving one’s door open and letting the toddlers watch you have sex, inviting a person into intimacies they have no way of processing.
What’s more, on the other hand, it was awkward to be asking those who have a common covenant to listen to a person’s story, to accept another person into their covenant when they knew that all sorts of people at the feast had not made the covenant themselves. That dilutes the idea, at best, and mocks it, at worst. In some ways, allowing that to happen, is caving in to the strange propensity we have these days to always be a show, like it would be OK to be making a covenant with the body like we were on reality TV with people watching, somehow virtually – but then it would be “like” doing it, rather than doing it. It is not a show, we are really doing something!
Trying to hold on to the depth of covenant
There are many ways we follow Jesus. Most of them are public but some are done in secret. Some are easy, others are difficult. Some bring honor, others reproach. Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and personal interests, others are contrary to both. In some ways we may please Christ and please ourselves, in other ways we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. In all ways, Christ is our way and gives us the strength to follow.
The covenant we make with the others in our face-to-face, heart to heart rendition of the church is more on the secret side, like closing our door and praying to our Father in secret. We have the relationship, we act on the relationship and then we express our character in public. The act of making a covenant and making covenant love is more likely to be difficult, not just another party. Crossing the boundary into a public allegiance to the body of Christ is more likely to bring reproach, and should not be diminished so it seems more “normal.” Committing to treat people like Jesus treats the church, becoming vulnerable to receive the love of Jesus like the church receives grace is probably contrary to the natural inclinations and personal interests of most of us, so it must be entered with reverence for Christ if it can be entered at all, Christ who is the one who gives us the strength to make such submission, who so completely demonstrates such submission.
So we are figuring this out. We think it is crucial for people to learn to make a covenant like Jesus makes with us, if they are going to be a long-term believer, if they are going to live in love and truth. I’m sure we will never feel free to be invulnerable and restrictive and so bar the door to people who shouldn’t be at the love feast – that is not our way, and not the Lord’s way. But we need to get better at not luring people into places we have not prepared them to be and to make sure we are maintaining our sense of being the people of God with an unalloyed allegiance to Jesus in an age where all the forces are working to erode that.