There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting and blissful experience of genuine Christian community at least once in her or his life. But in this world such experiences remain nothing but a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life. We have no claim to such experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of gaining such experiences. It is not the experience of Christian community, but firm and certain faith within Christian community that holds us together. We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forgo all such experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.
(p. 47). Bonhoeffer has this rare blend of idealism and pragmatism that I find incredibly … true. Yes, Christian community can produce some amazing, wondrous experiences. No, that’s not the test of true community.
If we go chasing delightful experiences, if we think church is one wonderful devo after another, then we’ll become frustrated and unhappy when real life doesn’t measure up to the mountain top experiences.
This is not to deny the legitimacy of those experiences, just the illusion that every Sunday and every class can be an emotional high.
Just as is true in marriage, those experiences are real and precious, but they are not the daily grist of married life. There’s also a lot of diaper changing, trips to the emergency rooms, and tears. Sometimes married life is nothing but not enough sleep, swing shifts, and exhaustion.
If we live for the glorious moments and refuse to participate in the exhausting, difficult burdens of married life, we won’t have many glorious moments at all. The glory crowns years, even decades, of investment in the lives of each other.
And church is just the same. We might manufacture one Sunday after another of experiential delight, but if those present aren’t invested in each other, if they’ve not struggled and cried together, if they are only there for the thrill of the moment, then it’s all artificial. It’s an effort at a prolonged honeymoon without having to actually have a real marriage. It’s the church equivalent of having a mistress — of casual sex. It’s empty and hollow and cannot last.
But when the congregation is invested in one another’s lives, when we share childbirths, marriages, deaths, illnesses, and job losses, when we love each other enough to sacrifice for each other, then and only then will the emotions be real and not manufactured. After all, we can’t really celebrate Christ’s sacrifice if we don’t sacrifice daily for others. We won’t really appreciate the pain of submission if we don’t submit. We can’t celebrate Jesus’ suffering for us if we’ve never suffered for others.
But when the church learns to be Jesus to each other — to serve, submit, sacrifice, and even suffer for others among us, even those we not like all that much, even our enemies — then we will understand the heart of Jesus and we can sing with the understanding.
Then our worship won’t be about professionalism and expertise and style point but about hearts torn open to praise God for his unspeakable grace — a grace that transforms us so much that we resonate with the songs of angels.