Three times Peter denied. I do not know the man! And, when he is charged with being of His disciples, I am not one of them! He did not merely distance himself from Jesus but from those who were with Him. His betrayal was not merely to our Lord but to the fellowship of those who live in Him by faith. When Thomas is mentioned after Easter, it is first in the context of his absence from the fellowship of the disciples and then in the context of his doubts or refusal to believe without the self-same proofs they had received in the presence of the Risen Lord. Where had he been? What would have been so important as to keep him from the fellowship of those who gathered behind locked door?
Perhaps the most striking thing about us as people is that we are not alone. Though individuality is the most striking phenomenon of the modern times, the individual is not the epicenter of human existence before then. After all, none of us come into existence by ourselves. We are born of parents (two of them when biology is unassisted by technology and still two when considering the ingredients of humanity even in test tube form). Yet even these two parents are themselves part of a larger family and this family joins other families into the community, society, and culture that mark our non-solitary existence. None of us comes into being by ourselves. Scripture says this. None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.
In the briefest of moments, we begin to acknowledge familiarity and acquire language. Our whole lives are marked with this community context from the earliest of our days. Of course, we are not identical but what marks us as individuals is less than what connects us together as a people. Surely there is something individual about us, but it exists mostly in the abstract. Even then, we discover a bit of this individuality largely by comparing ourselves to others. We define ourselves in conjunction with others and we not only need them to exist but need them to know who we are. The first great conclusion of God in the unfolding events of our creation is that, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” We were never intended to be alone. Adam soon discovered this in his task of surveying and naming all that God had made. It became a pattern so familiar to him that he saw no one was like him. So the Lord made use “male and female.” Our lives were lived to be shared and yet, when it comes to salvation and our relationship to God, we tend to frame this all in individual terms. Why?
Let me say a radical thing. No one is saved as an individual. No one is saved to be an individual. We are saved because of the work of God through others and we are brought into the Body of Christ, the congregation of the saints, the assembly of the redeemed, the community of the baptized, and the many voices that speak as one in confession of Jesus Christ before the world. Is there a Christianity that is not also the Church? Can there ever be a Christianity apart from the Church? Where did Jesus ever teach an individual salvation or even an individualized path to salvation?
Individuality is the breath of our modern world but it is a poisoned air brought into the Church to make it possible for people to think of being saved and not belonging to a community of believers gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord. Individuality has become word we use in the Church but it is not of the vocabulary of Scripture or tradition. If the fool says in his heart there is no God, it is the fool who says I do not need the Church. How often don't we hear the smug individuality insist, “I don’t need a priest or a pastor or a mediator or a church -- I can go straight to God.” Of course, nobody says that can't “go straight” to God but even then no one goes straight to God alone. They go in company of the saints and because of those who spoke the Word first to them.
Nature is not about the individual. Neither is salvation. The sooner we let go of this lie, the better off we will be. It is not the Church that needs us. We need the Church. We do not get a choice -- go it alone or walk together with the people of God. When we walk alone, we are not alone. Even when we pray as our Lord taught us, it is the voice of the faithful speaking in one voice.... Our Father who art in heaven. So let us in the Church stop catering to the foolishness of our modern preoccupation with the individual and let us begin again to acknowledge the good that is the Church and to give thanks to the Lord that we are not alone.