The Spirit Calls us to Communion

July 1, 1999

There is a phrase in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you are marked with the seal of the day of redemption. Who is the Holy Spirit, and what would grieve the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is, first of all, the minister of communion. Communion as spoken of in scripture is more than toleration, or being polite, or being deferentially inclusive. Communion has to do with the inner life of God. Communion is that which is shared between the three persons of the Holy Trinity. And the life of communion as an endless circle dance between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: a circle dance of love.

Through baptism we are taken into that circle dance. The Holy Spirit, minister of communion, pours the love of God into our hearts and gives us the ability to respond to God's love with our own answering love. Our answering love is the Spirit of Christ loving the Father in and through us. So we are constituted to live lives of communion. We can only be real as people as we live lives of communion.

The Eucharist is our continual enacting of the mystery of communion, our being renewed in that reality as our lives unfold. Christ the one bread becomes the sign and the symbol of our profound relatedness to another.

In the letter to the Ephesians Paul addresses the Gentiles who are now part of the community made one with the Jewish Christian community in the bond of communion. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace. In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to one Body, through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

The peace Paul speaks of is really communion. Christ's peace is the peace which is the consequence of the restructuring of our personhood, the conforming of who we are to the image of God, and the growth of who we are towards God's likeness. And God's likeness is rooted in the mystery of communion.

Through Christ all peoples have access in one Spirit to the Father. Breaking down dividing walls of hostility, misunderstanding, judgement, mistrust, and presumed superiority is the cost of communion. We don't simply open our arms and receive the gift of communion. We have to be undone by it, and refashioned by it, and dragged kicking and screaming into its full reality, because communion means the complete restructuring of our personality, the complete restructuring of communal life.

And what grieves the Holy Spirit? As we fail to live in this loving communion, and thus reject the Spirit, we blaspheme, and surely the Holy Spirit grieves. The racism among us is the most blatant denial of the Spirit and of our communion. The blasphemy of racism is fiercely alive in our society and even, we must confess, in our own church. This racism undermines the very reality of who we are in Christ, and the very nature of the church. We might say the same for the other forms of denying the dignity of fellow members of Christ's body that divide us one from another. Overcoming them is therefore not simply an option. It is not merely socially enlightened behavior. It is absolutely integral to the authenticity of our being a community of communion.

Unawareness, according to one of the desert monastics of the fourth century, is the root of all evil. We live with a monumental unawareness of the realities of racism in our community. It is not necessarily deliberate acts we perform, but a state of unconsciousness that really is the heart of evil. We so easily assume that by some external tinkering with things, such as including people of color on a committee, we've actually addressed this mockery of the mystery of communion which exists in our midst.

What is required of us is that we look deep within our own hearts. Reconciliation and peace are radical actions carried out by the Spirit within us, and our collaboration with the Spirit is what we call repentance or metanoia: a change of heart, a change of mind.

This change is deeply personal. It begins with you, with me. Each of us must, in a very disciplined way, look deep within and ask God to change our hearts. Let us pray that the Spirit who is the minister of communion may move within each of us and among us all. May our fidelity to the motions of the Spirit lead to the Spirit's being less grieved. May we, with God's help, live into becoming the church community, and the world community, that the Holy Spirit gives us.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Tagged in: Anti-Racism