This past weekend, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Family came from across two states to pay honor to a beautiful woman who is always there, giving of herself, so that others might know they are loved. For the first time in many years, almost the entire extended family was gathered in one place. As we took our places in front of the house for a family photo to capture this small but momentous moment in time, three generations smiled (or squirmed) in front of the lens.
Family is a funny thing. Scores of disparate people are thrown together, sometimes with nothing in common but one tiny leaf on the bigger family tree. Things get messy on occasion as personalities clash. Old hurts hang around looking for new opportunities to inflict their pain. But there’s love, too. There are shared memories of festive celebrations, stories handed down from one generation to the next that build a collective family identity. We are bound by those who came before us, and we continue to build their legacy.
As I was thinking about family, legacy, and the generational ties that bind, I couldn’t help but think about the body of Christ that is the church. The body of Christ is a family, too. Our common ancestor is Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, in whose blood we are cleansed and in whose death we are granted access to the throne of God.
Like other families, the body of Christ is far from perfect–perfection doesn’t exist this side of eternity. So, our collective family tree can get pretty messy as we struggle with the fact that, although we are diverse, we are also united. The church has, at times, been a terrible representative of Christ in the world. We’ve accused. We’ve judged. We’ve harassed. We’ve misunderstood. We get all caught up in our own vines sometimes, and forget the trunk that holds us all. It can be difficult, being in the body of Christ. To be honest, sometimes I’d rather let my leaf fall. Church can be challenging, especially when you’re in leadership. It’s easy to forget that we are part of a bigger trunk, a trunk that has roots spreading throughout all parts of the world. It’s also easy to forget that, as a body, we have a purpose. We are called to bear God’s fruit and share it with the world.
The body of Christ, for all its imperfections, has worked to build God’s kingdom. We’ve confessed. We’ve forgiven. We’ve loved. We’ve hoped. We’ve shown others that there is another path on this journey of life–a way of living that leads to healing and peace. We have a legacy of love that we do our best to share with others, as Jesus called his disciples to do before ascending to heaven. And we don’t do it alone. The Spirit is there, urging us onward, guiding and directing us to be more fruitful. We also have the legacy of believers to look back on–those collective stories of our early ancestors, found both in Scripture and our church histories. These leaves on God’s family tree help us better understand not only who we are, but whose we are. As the author of Hebrews writes:
God’s family tree ground us, inspires us, and gives us our collective identity. We, as members of this body, are called to continue the legacy. It is up to us to add new leaves to the tree, and creating a glorious canopy of love that stretches across the sky.
Blessings and Peace,