What are relationships like in heaven? This is a question I often pondered as I read scriptures during the years I helped build a Christian Wilderness Ministry program in the middle of Wyoming. I wanted the small, temporary communities that the students experience to be reflective of the community of heaven. I wanted the long-term community that the both seasonal and perennial staff experienced to be reflective of Heaven as well. I was reminded of this desire and my pursuant questions as I attended a wedding recently that served as sort of a mini reunion for my staff from over the last 10 years. It was so humbling to see how the communitas continues to thrive there.
The communitas that exists in that parachurch ministry is branded upon the hearts of all who come into contact with it. For many, it is the first authentic community they have ever experienced. From some it is the first truly Christian community they have ever known. What makes it reflective of heaven is not the people are perfect, never offend or take offense, or that there are no wounded or broken people. What makes it like heaven for me is that all of that humanity plays out in the full sight of God and others with no veil of Christian pretense.
In this community you are sought after to be known and to be seen. You can be your ugliest self and people around you still see your anointing, the call of God on your life, and the sliver of the Imago Dei that is embodied in your unique person. It is this Imago Dei that the group is dedicated to contend for. Even when you are grossest self, the community comes around and loves you, accepts you, speaks love and life over you, and draws out the Christ that is in you. And I am not talking about our grossest Church-version of ourselves but rather the version of our soul when we have been in the wilderness for 40 days with no showers, where people’s decisions mean making our food ration or not, where people’s attitudes mean making the summit of a peak or not, and where we can no longer hide behind technology or social mores. That version of our grossest self is loved and honored and accepted. It is in the darkest part of our souls that the communitas rallies to see Jesus be made manifest and embodied in.
The amazing thing about communitas is that it is all about Jesus. It is all about the Jesus in you, and the Jesus between you and someone else. By being able to be vulnerable in front of other people we learn how to be loved by God. By letting other people see our grossest selves and speak the love and truth of God over us. we grow in deeper intimacy with God. There is a whole realm of God’s love that we can only know when we are known and loved by others. The phileo love of God must be experienced through man and in communities where we are vulnerable and we risk authentic spiritual intimacy. Only in communitas can we experience the true depth of the phileo love of God. In this community there is truly no Jew nor Gentile, elder nor ‘baby Christian”, male nor female, clergy nor lay leader. The Jesus in one person is not of more value than the Jesus in another because Christ gives himself equally to each of us. In communitas we learn to draw the Jesus out of each other so that the person we are known to be looks more and more like Christ. We stand in the gap for one another between the now and the not yet, between the current and the becoming.
As I sat in that wedding reception, my heart was full and burst because I know these people. I love this community. They know me. They have seen me in my darkest hour and in that hour they called out my leadership, my wisdom, and the Christ within me when I thought I had nothing to give. They allowed me to serve them and lead them not out of my abundance but out of my lack. That is what heaven is like. This is the kind of community the people don’t get over. It ruins them, brands their heart, and marks them as having experienced the Kingdom. This community, built 8, 12, and 15 people at a time, repeated hundreds of times for over almost two decades is still thriving. It is an example to me of what heaven is like.