February 13, 2011 was a very special day for me. I preached at the church in Orthoro. What a marvelous experience. While the service was spoken and sung in Swahili, I basically knew right where they were all the time. I could tell when they were singing the Kyrie, and the Gloria, the Agnus Dei, and the Sanctus. I knew when they were confessing their sins, when they were speaking the Creed, and when the prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
What was so special for me is that I was invited to preach that day. I preached on Psalm 121. I spoke a line, and Rev. David Chuchu translated it for me. I was told the people were expecting a 30-45 minute sermon. They weren’t going out to Perkins afterward, they weren’t going to watch football on their LCD TV, and they weren’t going to go shopping at the mall afterward either. They were very content being in Church in all morning and feasting on the Lord’s Word and His blessed Sacrament. What a joy it was to serve the Lord’s Supper to my brothers and sisters in Christ in Kenya, Africa.
The music in the Service was beautiful. The only instrument was drum to keep the beat of the hymn. Two different choirs sang. What beautiful voices, and in harmony. Then it came time for the Offering. These are people of little means, selling their garden vegetables to purchase household necessities. People joyfully gave their shillings as an offering. In that offering plate was also some fresh fruit, and some raw eggs gathered from the hen that morning. At the end of the Service, the pastor auctioned off the material goods for coins. These coins would be used to give the pastor a meager wage, upkeep on the building, and some mission money to go beyond them.
Now all this was took place in a church building nicer than most. However, it only had a cement floor (no carpet or tiles). The “pews” were backless, hard benches, but no one seemed to mind. They came into Church smiling and talking to one another, just as people in our Churches in the United States.
What they did at the end of the Service was particularly special. I learned most or all the ELCK congregations practiced this custom. After the announcements and further warmly greeting Rev. Chuchu and me, the pastor departed the building to the sunny outdoors. I followed the pastor, and shook his hand. He invited me to stand to the right of him. Rev. Chuchu shook hands with the pastor, shook hands with me, and stood next in line. Everyone in that congregation, 80 to 100 or more, exited the building, shaking hands with everyone in line, and taking their place in the line, as they began to form a full circle, just outside the front door of the Church. After everyone had shaken everyone’s hand – it was THEN that the pastor spoke the final blessings. After the blessing was received, the circle broke, the people began to mingle and talk to one another, and eventually headed toward their homes. I commented to the pastor how wonderful that was. He said, “Yes, it’s rather difficult to hold grudges when you greet one another with the peace of the Lord.”
I John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” We talk about Koinonia so often. This “fellowship” we have with one another is our rich koinonia with one another. There is something deep and eternal going on when Christians who have just heard the Word together, who have just eaten the Feast of Christ together, and who have sung and prayed together – depart with the right hand of fellowship, and express their koinonia with one another in greeting one another with the peace of the Lord.
I would imagine there are times when these Kenyan brothers and sisters in Christ from the same congregation don’t always get along with one another. Sin is universal. It is tragic when God’s people fight and argue, especially children of God from the same congregation. But we belong to a fellowship far richer than a circle outside a Church building. We belong to the Circle of Fellowship called “The Church.” Together we are the baptized in Christ. Once we were as scarlet, but now (together) we are as white as snow in the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Whether you go to Kenya and experience this great custom, or you begin it in your own congregation, or you express koinonia in other ways in your congregation – know this: You belong to The Circle of Fellowship with the Triune God, and thus, with brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. This fellowship extends beyond your congregation. It extends all the way to Kenya, and through the world wherever God’s people live.
In the name of Jesus!