When I was growing up, my church had monthly communion, after which we would join hands and sing the first verse of the hymn “Blest Be the Tie”: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”
I don’t suppose my church was unique—I am guessing that many churches do exactly the same thing. But I never really reflected on the words, never really thought of what was being said. In essence, it asks us to imagine ourselves tied together with our neighbors, our lives bound up with each other. The hymn asks us to believe that our relationship with each other is real, meaningful and—here’s the kicker—inescapable. When you are tied together, there is no escape. But for us as Christians, that is not something to fear, but a blessing.
Indeed, in the first verse it does seem to always be a blessing, because it means fellowship on earth as it is in heaven. But in that third verse—the one we never sing—we realize that being tied together is sometimes difficult. “We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear; and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.” This is the cutting edge of what it means to be “tied” with others: we also experience their pain as our own, and we bear their burdens as if they were our own.
This reality is what scares people away from community. In today’s hyper-connected world, we are aware of how very much suffering there is out there. After a while, we have to turn off the TV or close the computer just to avoid seeing one more image or hearing one more story of suffering. And in a world where we are so closely marketed to, we also are encouraged to be in touch with our own personal suffering as never before.
We are much more aware of our suffering than our grandparents’ generation. This keeps us in a constant state of anxiety and ultimately makes us reliable consumers of the many things the world markets to us to relieve our suffering. Suffering scares us so much that we can not imagine choosing to accompany others in their suffering—we can scarcely deal with our own!
And yet in the final two verses, the hymn reminds us of just how precious being together is. Verse 4 talks about death: “When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again.” Verse 5 talks about the hope of re-connecting beyond this life: “This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; while each in expectation lives and longs to see the day.”
The hymn reminds us that all suffering is rooted in death. Death is what lingers behind all human suffering and makes it so difficult. Sickness is only unbearable because it causes death. War is unbearable because it causes and glorifies death. The thing that makes suffering so profound is because it causes death—and what is death but a separation from those we love?
Christ’s Victory over Death
Yet Christ has overcome death. And we who are in Christ know this. And so we willingly bind ourselves together, we willingly take on the suffering of others, because we know that we start eternal life right now. Right now, we start to live with the kind of transparency and sacrifice and intimacy that Christ makes possible, knowing that yes, suffering and death will cause some pain, but that the closer our community, the more we know the love of Christ that relativizes and ultimately defeats this pain.
We are aiming always at being this kind of community here, and pray that your time at Houghton, and your relationship with Houghton after graduation, equips you to bring this kind of community into your settings all around the world.
Michael Jordan is the dean of the chapel at Houghton College, and also a member of the class of ’99.
Highlander Devotionals are contributed by members of the broader Houghton community, including our worldwide alumni family. These reflections are a testament to the continued, transforming work of Jesus Christ in the lives of alumni and others who have called Houghton “home.”