Jesus repeatedly uses kingdom — the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven — to describe the fullness of life and profusion of love to which we are all invited.
In the epistles, concerned with the messiness of the day-to-day ways in which we try, and fail, and try again to live in acceptance of that invitation, we see a different word.
“Ekklesia” appears more than 100 times. It comes from the verb meaning “to call out” or “gather together.” (Nothing like a cup of coffee and some ancient Greek etymology to get your day started, right?)
The assembly of Christians gathered for worship, later known as the Church, was referred to as the ekklesia.
In a time when some 20 percent of Americans say they are “spiritual but not religious” and many of those who are religious sit in a pew only for the sake of their own salvation, we might want to revisit that term ekklesia.
For the Greeks, the ekklesia was the basic unit of democracy. In the ekklesia, citizens (alas, all males) came together to discuss concerns for their city-state. They made big decisions of war and peace, but also deliberated the little things that enhanced or hindered the common good.
Issues of slavery and gender equality aside, the Athenians understood the importance of community. They realized that the strength of their city-state and the freedom of their citizens depended on the engagement of all.
The epistolarians recognized this as well. They addressed their letters to entire communities. They discussed relationships within the groups and their responsibility to the poor. The ekklesia was the Way of the Lord, but it was a path never walked alone.
With the “me-ness” of today and the tragic errors of some Church leaders, it is no surprise that many either head for the exits or wrap themselves in their own spirituality. But I don’t think I can do that.
I am dependent on the community of Church. Without these others, to whom am I accountable? Without others, how will I be forgiven? Without others, with whom will I break bread, remember our story, and anticipate our promise? Who will mourn with me, pray for me, celebrate my joys and wipe away my tears?
When it comes to ekklesia, T.S. Elliot got it right: “What life have you if you have not life together? There is no life that is not in community ... And no community not lived in praise of God.”