As an aficionado of the Eurovision Song Contest, I recently decked out our house in bunting of European flags, printed out score sheets and tucked into food from a number of European countries as I settled down with family and friends to watch the annual extravaganza, which is, without doubt, my cultural highlight of the year. Apart from the two years I lived in Japan, I have watched every Eurovision Song Contest since 1966 and am genuinely moved by the show of solidarity and joy as people speaking and singing in different languages come together to celebrate this annual festival. There have been many touching moments over the last 65 years although one of the stand-out moments for me was when Israel awarded the coveted douze points in 1982 to Germany, the eventual winner, despite all the cultural and historical baggage between the two countries. The song, sung in German, by the 18-year-old Nicole Seibert, about the need for peace in the world was proof that deep-seated resentment can be overcome, and that love will always prevail. The performances and costumes may have become whackier over the years and some geopolitical voting may have crept in, resulting in the UK’s humiliating nul points in this year’s contest, but generally the best songs always shine through. Love it or hate it, criticisms of the contest can often obscure its real purpose. Set up in 1956, in a ravaged post-war Europe, its aim was to bring people together through music and celebrate cultural diversity.
In the same way, we can often forget the true purpose of the Church. The Church is not a collection of often crumbling buildings. The Church is its people, the people of God, the body of Christ, here to further His kingdom in this world. Non-Christians often point to the failings and divisions of the Church but, as Nicky Gumbel pointed out in the Alpha course, we are an imperfect people. The Church is not a museum but rather more akin to a hospital that needs the healing power and love of Jesus to restore and refresh us. It is true that there are many denominations within the church, all with a slightly different emphasis or appealing to different sensitivities yet we are all family, united in and through Christ. Unity of purpose is a common theme in the Bible. In Corinthians 1.10 Paul says, ‘’I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement.’’ Even in the Old Testament we read in Psalms 133.1; ‘’Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.’’ One of the commonalities we have as believers is encouragement from our relationship with Christ. We can be united because we have in common the same friend, the same comforter, the same encourager. For each of us, Christ comes alongside to walk us through the pains and struggles of life. Another commonality and empowerment for unity that God has given us is the comfort from Christ’s love. In Romans 5.8 we read: ‘’But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’’ Christ’s perfect love casts out fears and anxieties that keep us from unity. Thirdly, we are all united through fellowship with the Holy Spirit. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.13, ‘’ For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’’ The Spirit of God has made us one and works in us to work together and depend upon one another; however, we need to strive constantly to maintain this unity he forged within us. Unity, however, does not mean conformity. God made everyone different with different gifts and roles to fulfil within the Church. This should be seen as a strength and not a weakness of the Church and it is our responsibility to work together in love and tolerance to further His work.
The UK winning Eurovision entry of 1997 by Katrina and the Waves contains the following words: ‘’Love shine a light in every corner of the world. Brothers and sisters in every little part, let our love shine a light in every corner of our hearts.’’ Despite our failings as individuals, we can be encouraged that we are one in Christ and that His love will always shine through His Church.
[from Michael Chittleburgh]