And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The word ‘church’ in the New Testament evokes the notion of a community of believers not an institution or building. So here we have a word that speaks of a group of people, a gate and keys. And this is not just any gate, it is the gate that guards the path to the underworld, to the realm of the dead. This gate has no power to bind the community of those who belong to Christ. It cannot imprison us. It cannot hold us, for we are joined with the one who died and is risen. His life has become our life.
But it is not just I that has been joined with Christ; it is we. It is the community of believers that death cannot hold.
This goes against the grain of American individualism, but it contains a deep truth: It is in the fellowship of the community of believers that I share in the life to come. It is in the community that the word of grace is spoken. It is in the community that the gifts of the Spirit are given. It is in the community that the feast is shared, the blessing inherited, the forgiveness lived. It is among believers that the fountain of life is found. Here the gates of death are unlocked. Here its prisoners are set free. Here the world finds its redeemer and its redemption. Here is the new creation.
We all know that local parishes are comprised of frail human beings. But they are frail human beings gathered around the wellspring of Life, and they hold the keys that open the door from death into life.
(PS ‘gates’ is plural because the word ‘gate’ refers to each half of a city gate that opens in the middle)