I can experience almost every aspect of church from the comfort of my own bed. I can prop up my pillow, open my laptop, and enter my very own cyber sanctuary. The music of beautiful hymns can reverberate through my computer. I can read the Bible myself or listen to an audio recording of a trained professional narrate the Scriptures for me. Preachers from across the spectrum of Christianity can squeeze their pulpits within my computer screen.
I can sing, pray, read the Bible, hear sermons, all without the hassle of getting dressed, driving across town, and sitting in a pew for an hour. So why leave home for church on Sunday morning? Suppose that’s what I did. Honestly, what would I be missing?
I’d be missing the participation of my whole body in worship. My feet worshiping as they stand on holy ground in the presence of Christ. My nose worshiping as it smells the varnish on the pews, the pages of the hymnal, perhaps even the incense as its smoke traces the upward trail of prayers ascending to the Father’s ears. My tongue worshiping as it’s painted Passover red by the blood of the Lamb. My hands worshiping as I clasp another’s to say, “Peace to you.” My muscles worshipping as I sit and rise, folds my hands, kneel and bow my head. My eyes worshiping as I view the pulpit, the altar, the lectern, the baptismal font, through which Christ forgives, heals, and enlivens His people with hope. All of who we are—body and soul, eyes, ears and everything that makes us human—has been redeemed by Christ, blessed by Christ, and worships this Christ who become all of who we are in His incarnation.
If I stayed home, I’d be missing the community of fellow forgiven sinners whom I need and who need me. The recently widowed woman who sits in front of me--she listens as I sing a resurrection hymn that her tear-drenched eyes and the lump in her throat won’t let her sing herself. The teenager who’s never said a word to me--he secretly looks to me as an example. The grumpy old man--God has placed him in my path to give me an occasion for practicing charity and patience. My son and daughter--they'll be watching and emulating what I teach them about their place in the body of Christ. I’d be missing these fellow believers who are Christ’s gifts to me, and I to them.
In my cyber sanctuary, staring at my laptop, I’d be missing face-to-face, ear-to-mouth contact with the man whom the Lord Himself chose to shepherd me as a lamb in God’s flock. As useful as electronic communication is, there's a reason we call it virtual reality. I don’t have a virtual need for a pastor; I have a real one. I need real encounters with him, where he looks me in the eye to call me to repentance, places his hand upon my head and speaks Christ’s forgiveness into my ears, extends his hand to my open mouth to feed me the body broken and blood outpoured on the altar of the cross.
I’d be missing these things, and many more. I know that sometimes illness, old age, travel, and other situations in life prevent us from joining other believers. But I also know that sometimes we simply forget about what we are missing when we can go to church, but choose not to attend.
Jesus never said, “Thou shalt go to church on Sunday morning.” But He did send Paul throughout the Roman world to establish communities of faith, to appoint pastors and teachers in those churches. He did call us not to despise preaching and the word of God, but to hear it and learn it gladly.
Most importantly, Christ said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He will do that 24/7, anytime and anywhere, but He lavishly pours out His rest in the waters of Baptism, in the spoken words of absolution from the pastor’s lips, in the preaching of the cross and resurrection, in the consumption of heavenly cuisine from the table at which He is host and meal.
Around Jesus the church gathers as sheep around their shepherd, as the dying and wounded around this great physician of soul and body, as earth-bound believers who join the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the song that never ends.
Since Christ promises blessings like that, there’s no place I’d rather be on Sunday mornings. So I'll be out of bed and in a pew. I'll bask in the forgiveness and peace and love of the God who merges heaven and earth within the four walls of His sanctuary to fill us with gifts of grace.
*Here is a YouTube video in which I talk more about how God doesn't play hide-and-seek with us, but reveals himself to us in specific ways in church.