Comites Christi (December 30, 2018)
Dr. Phil tells us that Christmas is all about getting together with families and friends. It’s about togetherness and that special feeling we get from sharing. He’s not alone. Many people in our society think so. And if Dr. Phil says so — well, then, it must be so.
At the best of times, families get together to exchange gifts, eat huge meals, play games or do puzzles, talk and laugh.
But it’s not always the best of times. At the worst of times, families fight and argue and rehash old hurts.
It’s become more confused in the last few decades. With higher rates of divorce and remarriage, children are often part of more than one family. And so they negotiate schedules as carefully as possible — and the result is often frayed tempers, tears, and boundless frustration.
It’s not just Christmas. Some churches and TV preachers seem to think that the whole Christian gospel is about family values. They’re wrong.
Now, I’m not opposed to family. I have one of my own. And some of my best friends have families too. But you can’t reduce Christian faith to family values.
The gospel is about the dream of God. It’s about the healing of the world. It’s about forming community which is larger than just our birth family.
Today’s story from Luke highlights this sense. A family travels to Jerusalem. They do this every year for Passover. This annual pilgrimage is part of their lives … a habit. This is what they do.
At the end of the festival, the family starts their journey home with their friends. They assume their 12–year–old son is with the group, but at the end of the first day, they can’t find him anywhere.
Mom and Dad rush back to Jerusalem, search frantically for three days and finally find him in the Temple, debating with the teachers who are quite taken with him.
Mom rushes up to him. I can see her pinching his ear and pulling him to his feet. “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I are half out of our minds. You’re grounded. For life!”
And the boy, with a real sense of surprise, asks, “Why were you searching for me? This is where I’m supposed to be—I’m about my father’s business.”
This is a transition story in Luke. It begins to separate Jesus from his “parents” and attach him to his “father”. A different set of family values.
Later in the gospel, after he’s grown up, this same boy is teaching. His family comes looking for him, and he asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers? My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8: 19–21)
Christian faith is not just about family values. That’s much too small a concern. Christian faith has to do with how we value all in the human community. Christian people journey with Jesus, doing the work of God in the world.
Now some of that has to do with family. Of course it does. But it goes way beyond that. It embraces the whole world, including those whom our families would normally shun.
Let me suggest something a little more profound than family values.
In these days after Christmas, the church celebrates comites Christi” … the “companions of Christ”. The days after Christmas are littered with saints’ days … people who have lived and died in faith, and live now in the presence of God with Christ their brother:
- December 26 was the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for his faith as told in Acts 7;
- December 27 is the feast day of John the Evangelist, the writer of the gospel;
- December 28 we commemorated Holy Innocents Day. That’s the toughest one, because it is about murder. We marked the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem by King Herod after the magi asked about the one born to be king. Herod simply decided to remove all threats by killing them;
- Yesterday, we celebrated the feast day of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his own cathedral because he resisted King Henry 2 of England. “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” the king cried out, and four nobles took him at his word.Let me suggest that the gospel is not so much about family values, but about being comites Christi, companions of Christ, and companions of each other. We journey together in our faith and in the world.But what I love most about it is that it comes from two Latin words, cum (meaning with) and panis (meaning bread). Companions are people who break bread together. That’s what we do week after week. We break bread together. More correctly, we gather here week by week to eat the bread which has been broken for us, representing the broken body of one in whom we discover life.
- Now I love that word “companion”. It’s such a rich word. Companions are people we hang out with. A companion can also be someone who is responsible to accompany, assist, or live in with another. A companion is a guide.
- Comites Christi … companions of Christ. It’s not just the martyrs who are companions of Christ. We all are … all of us saints. St You. St. Me. Saints made holy because we belong to a holy God. The ones to whom Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants … but friends.” (John 15:15)
It seems to me to be a healthier, more inclusive image. We live in the world as companions together with this one who leads us into freedom and wholeness.
No family values for me. I’d rather be marked as a companion of Christ. I’d rather be known as one who is about the business of God in the world. I’d rather be a companion of Christ, one of the comites Christi.
In the words of that wonderful hymn by Herbert O’Driscoll,
“The love of Jesus calls us that we may always be
companions on a journey, where all the world may see
that serving Christ is freedom which time does not destroy,
where Christ’s command is duty, and every duty joy.
“The love of Jesus calls us in swiftly changing days,
to be God’s co–creators in new and wondrous ways;
that God with men and women may so transform the earth
that love and peace and justice may give God’s kingdom birth.”
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
December 30, 2018 (1st Sunday after Christmas)
Luke 2: 41–52
1 Samuel 2: 18–20, 26
Colossians 3: 12–17