One thing about these cold winter mornings is that the spider-webs in the garden look very pretty. The droplets of dew make them seem like tiny strands of sparkly diamonds glistening in the early morning sun. When the weather is warmer you don’t notice the spider webs until you walk into them but the droplets of winter dew make them highly visible.
Examining one of them last week made me do a little thinking about what we call “fellowship” among us as God’s people.
That network of relationships that we enjoy in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is somewhat like a spider’s web. In my mind’s eye I see all the many connections we make with one another in our church as being like the various strands of that spider web – lines running in all directions that seem to join the dots together. Just as all those strands with the many links make up the one web so too the many interlinking relationships between us as God’s children make up the one church.
But the analogy of the spider’s web struck me for another reason. A spider’s web is both strong and fragile.
It is fragile in that it really doesn’t take much to ruin one of those beautiful dew-enhanced webs. I remember that back in my primary school days some classmates would run a twig through a dew-drenched spider-web and then suck the dew from it. I never joined them – probably out of fear of swallowing a spider. But the point is that such actions speedily ruined even the most perfect web. In same way the network of our Christian fellowship is equally fragile. I’m writing these words at a time when our eldership has just removed a number of people from our church roll. They hadn’t been attending church – in some instances already for many years. But I grieve that the bonds of our love were not strong enough to keep them within the fellowship of our church community. Sure, that’s a two way street. I recall an older couple who lamented to me that they didn’t really feel that they belonged to the church. But they didn’t help matters by their haste to get away from church once Sunday worship ended – they were usually the first out of the door and made a bee-line for their car and home. But it’s not always the fault of the person who is marginalised – too often we have let people slip through the gaps by our lack of love and concern. Christian fellowship is a very fragile thing. It takes a great deal of effort to keep our networks of love and care strong and robust.
But a spider’s web is also very strong. I’m sure it’s happened to you that you walked through a spider’s web while hiking… or perhaps visiting some part of the garden where you hadn’t been for a while. Suddenly you have cobwebs on your hands and arms – or worse: on your face. When you try to pull them off they can be remarkably tenacious. There is quite an amazing strength and resilience in a spider’s web. So too Christian fellowship can be surprisingly strong and tenacious. I think of the couple who took an intellectually handicapped lady under their wing and were her chief caregivers for several decades. The strength of fellowship was especially seen in their perseverance with her even when she abused them. That shouldn’t surprise us. Our fellowship in the church is gospel driven and based on the unity we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. That allows us to be there for people who need us even when they at times make it very difficult for us. Christian fellowship has a strength that we rarely find outside the church.
One more lesson from that spider’s web: what is almost invisible in the warmth of summer becomes visible in the cold, harsh climate of winter. And Christian fellowship is a little like that too. When all goes well in the church then fellowship is something we almost take for granted. It’s when the hard times come that we suddenly experience the care and concern of our Christian family as we find the Lord helping us through the hands and actions of our brothers and sisters in Christ.