For the first time in a long while I was not in church on Sunday. Recuperating from hip replacement surgery provided a number of reasons why it was just not in the realm of possibility to do the stairs and make it to the service next door. Sitting here with my prayer book is so very different from being with the community in prayer. I know I will receive communion following the service when a Eucharistic visitor will bring it to me. And I am grateful for that. But it is not the same. Please don’t hear this as “not as good” or “worse”. It simply is not the same. It is a different experience.
Some might think in my missing being in church only that that the power of habit is strong. For many in the United States it is no longer a habit to spend Sunday Morning in a worshipping community. Often during my career I have been asked if I attend church while I am on vacation? Don’t I want some “time off”? For those who do not have the habit of being in a worshipping community, not attending church sounds like a holiday, like a bonus, that which is to be desired, perhaps even “time off for good behavior”.
But this desire to be part of a faith community is more than a Sunday schedule obsession of mine. For someone who is regularly part of such a community, not being there is missing something important. And the importance is something palpable and transcends theology and cognition.
We have a 16 month old who was baptized at St Paul’s earlier in the year. He plays with the other kids at the children’s table up front. And he comes forward for the Children’s Chat. And young as he is he sometimes helps the ushers at the offertory. His parents bring him up for communion and as he stand at the communion rail you can see the excitement – he bounces in joy and anticipation – as we come down the line and give him and his family communion. He doesn’t have the words to explain it – but he knows in his bones that something important is happening and HE IS A PART OF IT! I have words and enough theology to be able to create sentences and even some sense yet I cannot adequately explain it either.
Gathering on Sunday with other people to tell the Christ story and ours, remember and give thanks for our blessings, admit our faults and failures, offer prayer for the needs of others and to be fed at the table of the Lord is important and we are part of it. We become Christian in community and are best able to live it out in community. Lone Ranger Christianity is difficult and can be dangerous. To be fed, supported, cared for and corrected by a community as we share the Gospel, and help others to row in love and service by loving and serving is done in community. And when you or I are not there in with the community we are not complete and when you or I are not there the community is not complete.