I believe..

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN

I belong to a church where we do not have much of a liturgy, so to attend an Anglican service while on holiday last week was a great treat, although it can be a challenge to know whether one is meant to be speaking or singing at times! One of the things I love best about the liturgy of the Anglican church is this recitation of the Creed, our statement of faith. In the earliest days of the church, Christians were known simply as ‘believers’, because their salvation depended solely upon belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sins, and their future in  eternal life with God. In reciting the Creed, we are reminded of our total dependence on Jesus, and that of ourselves we bring nothing of worth to God.

These brief words contain sufficient material to keep us thinking, praising and adoring our precious Saviour, and the working out of them in practice is the employment of a lifetime. Today I am thinking particularly about that little phrase ‘ the communion of saints’, and what it can mean for us in practice.

In his great prayer the night before his death, Jesus prayed for his disciples, and for all who would come after into the family of believers, asking ‘ that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.‘ (John 17 21-23).

This, this astonishing unity and intimate connection, is what we mean when we talk about the communion of saints. It is not mere friendship, but a profound union, arising out of our union with Jesus himself. As we believe in Jesus for salvation, he dwells in us, we live by his life; and because our fellow believers also live by that same life,  we have bonds at the deepest level of our being with them. We have the same Father, and the same great elder brother, and we see in one another evidences of his life working to transform us into his likeness. Our ultimate desires and ambitions are the same – the glory of God, the saving of souls, and the blessing of the church family – and our means of receiving from God are the same – reading the bible, praying, taking communion,  practising baptism.

The apostle Paul explores the implications of this unity many times in his letters to the young churches of Asia, including his assumption that believers will pray earnestly and intelligently for one another, even though they may never have met, share no cultural or language experiences, and have only their faith in common! It makes sense… when we are all part of the one body – with Christ as our head – then the suffering of one part calls for the support of the rest, and any practical help which may be given. Similarly, the joys of one part bring gladness to the whole body, so that everyone may be encouraged in their faith and hope.

I was blessed to have grown to faith in churches where it was a matter of routine to pray for christians all over the world – missionaries, ministers, and those to whom they were sent; persecuted believers in troubled lands, churches which were experiencing great blessing and growth. It never occured to me that it was odd to pray so earnestly for people I had not met, and I was taught to pray for them with as much passion as I might for those nearest and dearest to me. It was a wonderful lesson to learn early, and continues to bring great blessing, because when we come before God in order to pray for our brothers and sisters, we forget our own troubles, and fix our eyes upon him. We are reminded, even as we remind God, of his own promises to bless his children, to glorify his name, to provide resources for his work and to guide his servants – all these things which we also desire for our own situations.

So let us give ourselves to prayer for our fellow-believers, rejoicing that when we pray, we are together in God’s presence, in a fellowship which will be surpassed only in the resurrection when we meet face to face. What a blessing is the communion of the saints!

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