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Do I really have to go to church?

…If you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
…then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth…
(excerpts from Isaiah 58:13-14)



Dear friends in Christ,

 

Spoiler alert: the answer is yes! But you could have guessed that, couldn’t you? Far be it from a priest to say you don’t have to go to church. But alas, I found myself wrestling with the same questions while on my vacation recently, inviting me to repentance and a new way forward.

 

On the one hand, our tradition doesn’t have strict mandates about church attendance or ‘days of obligation,’ the missing of which might impede your ability to receive communion. On the other hand, keeping the sabbath holy is one of the Ten Commandments, taken seriously throughout the Bible. Why? Jesus upset the expectations of the Pharisees on the sabbath, so we are wise not to be overly legalistic about church attendance, especially for those who are ill or infirm. But Jesus was clear that he was honoring the sabbath by his healing and deliverance ministry on that day. How do we honor the sabbath in our own lives?

 

Honoring God on the sabbath is a discipline in which we order our lives first around God. We don’t order our devotion to God around our work or hobbies, lest God take a back seat to our lifestyle, getting attention only when the “truly important things” get addressed first. God is truly most important. There is nothing magical about going to church—it doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than sitting in a garage makes you an automobile. So why go? And why go even on vacation or when traveling?

 

Church is not about having a club of convenience for like-minded people with like-minded social services. The church is the body of Christ, the community of Christians who first and foremost honor God with our worship—gathering to acknowledge God’s primacy in our lives and in the universe, praising God for his greatness and great love for us, thanking God for his blessings far more than we can ask or imagine or deserve. We gather to hear his word in Holy Scripture, to renew our commitment to him and to each other in Christ, to offer our prayers of petition and intercession, prayers of repentance and rejoicing in God’s forgiveness. And we gather to share in God’s renewing sacraments, receiving God’s grace and sharing that grace with each other. God gives us not only his sabbath, God gives us himself and his family in which we are built up and enlivened and blessed! Why would we not want to gather together?

 

The more I think and pray about this, the more I want to redouble my efforts to participate in worship when I am away, ordering my travels and plans around God first. While I was in the wilderness on a trip one recent Sunday, I remembered the text of a beautiful anthem about Sundays and about our life together as Christians, fed and grounded in God’s presence on the sabbath. Let me share this text with you:

 

We the Lord’s people,

heart and voice uniting,

praise him who called us

out of sin and darkness

into his own light,

that he might anoint usa royal priesthood.

This is the Lord’s house,

home of all his people,

school for the faithful,

refuge for the sinner,

rest for the pilgrim,

haven for the weary;

all find a welcome.

This is the Lord’s day,

day of God’s own making,

day of creation,

day of resurrection,

day of the Spirit,

sign of heaven’s banquet,

day for rejoicing.

In the Lord’s service

bread and wine are offered,

that Christ may take them,

bless them, break and give them

to all his people,

his own life imparting,f

ood everlasting.

 

-John E. Bowers

 

God bless you on Sundays and on every day!

 

Yours in Christ,

 

-Tom

 

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