Lesson 15: The Beloved Community

The Beloved CommunityI have been trying to show that our visions of the future impact the way we live in the present. The responses I have been receiving reflect the discussion that has taken place ever since the first century. They range from “needing to wait” because there is no way we can realize the promises now, to “practicing the lifestyle in the church” as a witness to the rest of society, to engaging in “political action” to bring the entire human community closer to the ideals of the Kingdom.

Hope’s third vision, the Beloved Community, perfectly illustrates this discussion. Its promises are explicitly based on Jesus’ parables that picture a future marriage feast with God and all his people around a table sharing food, conversation, and everything else they have. However, they are perhaps even more implicitly founded on Jesus’ practice of sharing meals with sinners and tax collectors, women and outcasts, friends and enemies.

The church embraced this vision when she made a meal her main act of worship. Every time this Communion meal is celebrated, the Church not only remembers the Last Supper but also proclaims that this is a “foretaste of the feast to come.” She prays that just as Christ was present in the past and promises to be present in the future, so he is present now as we gather like a family around a table to share a common meal.

The ambiguous plea, “Come, Lord Jesus,” that is voiced in the traditional liturgy expresses our complex discussion of Christian hope. The invitation surely extends beyond Christ being present in the bread and wine that we ingress. It also asks him to be present among us, the Body of Christ, as we share this meal. And we try to present ourselves as the beloved brothers and sisters pictured in the future Community.

It’s an easy step from asking Christ to be present among us when we eat together in Church to inviting his presence when we share meals in our homes. To tell the truth, it might be more accurate to observe that the Eucharistic meal enables us to recognize Christ’s presence in Church and consequently helps us become aware of his presence in our own homes as well.

It is obviously a harder step to acknowledge Christ’s presence in the larger community. In the last century, Martin Luther King used the vision of the Beloved Community to do just that. He cited it over and over again to inspire American society to grant equality and equity to all races. His “dream” used the vision of God’s future to bring change in our present. His argument ran something like this: If you truly believe all races shall gather around the same table and share the same food in the future Beloved Community, then you should be sharing the Communion table with all races in your churches now. And even more, if this is your belief, you should be sharing your food with all races in our American society. To put it another way, we are going to be very uncomfortable when we get to heaven unless we have prepared ourselves by sharing our food now with all God’s beloved children.

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