No Christian is an Island

by Kristen Hartman

June 29, 2022


I stand in the oldest cemetery in the city I’ve lived in most of my life. Generations of my family—linked by blood and marriage and adoption—are buried in this ground.

Cemeteries are strange places. They hold the physical remains of human beings. They hold memories and stories and griefs and joys and no-longer-answerable questions. They hold connections one to another, long lost to present knowledge.

I read names and years of birth and death. I wonder about the people. What was it like for those born in the 1830s? Does anyone in their family remember they’re “here” and tell younger generations about them?

Death is solitary. One person, maybe two, for each marker. Unique dates denoting a unique life. Maybe a few words recognizing significant relationships or affiliations. Hardly enough to piece together more than a sentence or two of summary. The barest details of a single life.

But life isn’t meant to be solitary.

When seriously ill and facing his own mortality, John Donne wrote these meditative words:
No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were.
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

Donne penned these words almost four hundred years ago, in 1623.

The words are true enough of all humanity, but how much truer are they of Jesus followers?

Jesus modeled living with others. He traveled with His disciples, who numbered far more than twelve and included both men and women, married and unmarried. Even when He sent His disciples out, He sent them in pairs, not alone.

After Jesus’ death, His followers—perhaps more than ever—lived life together. When the Spirit descended, He came upon them in a group setting. There was something communal about following Jesus, about being indwelt by the Spirit.

The church is not a building; it’s a people. Faith is personal, but it isn’t only personal. We pray to “our Father.” We belong to the family of God. We are parts of one body.

No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.

With all due respect to John Donne…
No Christian is an island,
entire of itself;
every Jesus follower is a piece of the continent, a piece of the church,
a part of the main.

Our life of faith is not solitary. And, it’s more than a shared family name. Our faith unites us as one body with the blood of Jesus running through and redeeming us as a collective whole. So yes, we mourn our losses, but we as the Body of Christ understand the glorious truth that we will be whole again.

May we live and die with confidence in the One who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and in His own Body.

Kristen loves stories (especially family stories) and reflecting on the way the generations shape each of us in our families of origin and in the church.