The Blessing, Burden, and Beauty of Koinonia
For nearly 11 months, our family has been mostly confined to our house. While we have wavered throughout the pandemic about whether the safety measures we keep are adequate, our discernment has never been myopic. From the infancy of these days of isolation, we’ve focused on two things, always trying to prioritize them equally: 1) each other as a household, and 2) the community of which we are a part.
There is a word in the Greek New Testament—koinonia—which encapsulates that notion of community. Koinonia refers to joint participation, people living in mutual fellowship where the blessings and burdens of the one are shared with the whole body. It’s what Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 12:12 where the apostle describes the body of Christ, in which there are many parts—all belonging, one unto the other—but one body. Koinonia is a good word to shepherd us through the remainder of this pandemic, and to deliver us from it with less of a desire for what I want to be happy and comfortable, and more of a longing for what we all need to be joyful and at peace.
A woman who lived down the street from us died recently. Respecting her wishes and their own, the woman’s family did not have a memorial service indoors at the church where she was an active member in the interest of the community’s health and wellbeing. Instead, they invited the neighborhood to gather outside on their front yard to celebrate her life. Stacy and I decided to attend.
Everyone was required to wear masks and maintain physical distance from each other. The front yard had plenty of space, but the modest crowd still spilled into the street to give everyone ample space for safety’s sake. The service was brief and sweet. We knew no one there, including the deceased and her family, but we all stood together (if even at a distance), bowed our heads in prayer with one another, and heard words of remembrance about our neighbor whose passing reminded an isolated people, tempted each day in this pandemic to obsess over our own concerns, of the blessing, burden, and beauty of koinonia. There was joy in that moment, and we parted in peace.
One of the hymns I look forward to singing again when we’re able to gather for in-person worship is “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” Throughout this pandemic, I’ve kept the third verse of that hymn in my head: “We share each other’s woes, each other’s burdens bear; and often for each other flows a sympathizing tear.” The tears squeezed from our eyes under the weight of the last 11 months are not for that restaurant we want to get back to, or that vacation we’re psyched to take; those tears are for one another and the burdens we bear as a community.