“Peace I leave with you; Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27
Dominus vobiscum, “May the Lord be with You!” This is an ancient salutation and blessing traditionally used in liturgies like Holy Communion. At our General Conference here in Portland, we will open our gathering of worship with Holy Communion. I believe that being reminded of this simple ancient salutation throughout our liturgy we will rediscover our value as a one denominational church both within and outside the faith community.
Why does this ancient salutation matter in General Conference? How should we understand and translate this properly in today’s church, especially as we face divisive and challenging issues?
There was a bishop in the Early Christian church in the 3rd century, named Cyprian of Carthage. He was born in North Africa where he received a classical education. Soon after converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249. He wrote an article about ‘the Unity of the Church.’
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus is arrested and his captors took his clothes, they split them in four parts. However, his coat was not split, as it says, “the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.” That coat bore with it a unity that came down from the top, which was not to be at all rent by the receiver and the possessor, but without separation we could obtain a whole and substantial entireness.
“This sacrament of unity, this bond of a concord inseparably cohering, is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received as an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ’s garment, who should rather put on Christ.”
As you know, it is at General Conference where delegates wrestle with today’s issues in scriptural teachings and the church’s understanding of that teaching. Here is where the church’s official stands and church policies are made regarding such issues as human sexuality, abortion, war and peace, as well as determination of ministries, funding and re-structuring.
I believe the ancient salutation is not only a wish for the church, individuals or groups, but it is also an attitude and a gesture of our distinctive identity as the Church of Christ holding the future of Jesus’ garment, its whole entireness in a deeper understanding of God’s will.
We’re having friends, sisters and brothers in Christ here in town. Many are coming, but we should remember that they are also sent from somewhere and by some groups as well. That means, they are sent with salute, “May the Lord be with You”
Shall we lift up our hands and arms to pray for them? Shall we open our hands and arms to embrace them? Shall we lay out our hands and hearts to ask God’s blessings upon them? Shall we hold hands and put arms around each other’s shoulders? Shall we respond to them with a simple but authentic gesture saying, “Also with your spirit!” regardless of our differences?
Before we talk with each other or walk hand in hand, let us share this simple, loving expression with one another. Let us greet each other with open arms and with hands reaching out to all with recognition and care. I prayerfully hope that Jesus’ garment will be never divided although the churches are sent as broken pieces of the Christ to the broken world. Under his strength and peace, we can truly celebrate this sacrament as The One United Methodist Church.
John Go, Pastor of Tabor Heights UMC
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John (Joung Youl) Go is a pastor serving Tabor Heights United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon. He is a reserve delegate to the 2016 Western Jurisdiction Conference and will be attending General Conference as an additional reserve delegate and observer. John chairs the Conference Commission on Religion and Race.