This past week an article was published in the National Post with a title I couldn’t ignore. It was titles, “When Going to Church Sounds Like a Mind-Boggling Sensuous Pleasure.” I love that. It was written in response to the ongoing shutdown as a result of the corona virus outbreak. From where I sit right now, working from the same home that doubles as my children’s school, home, and recreation centre, I have to say I agree with the title’s sentiment. The thought of being in a room full of people with their different voices, stories, handshakes, and hugs does seem like a mind-boggling sensuous pleasure. I look forward to the time when that will once again seem like the mundane norm and time to myself will seem like the sensuous pleasure.
I look forward to this, but with one exception: What if, as a result of this, we stop thinking of the church as a place that we go to and, instead, experience more deeply that this is what we are?
For most of us our default setting is to think of the church as a noun. That is, to think of it a a place that we go to and a set of experiences that we have when we get there. For many of us we follow what is often called the Reformed definition of the church, even if we are not Reformed or don’t even know what it means to be. The Reformed definition defines the church as the place where the Scriptures are rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. These are two very important functions of the church, but these are not all the church is. Instead, the church is something that is so much bigger. I isn’t a place that we go to and experience, but rather something that we and do. Jesus describes the church as “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name,” a community of people that are called out, empowered, and sent – not just as a witness to, but as the tangible demonstration of his presence in the world. Likewise, the rest of the New Testament picks up on this and describes this loving, serving, worshiping and witnessing community that is defined by who it serves and what it is and does, rather than by where it meets. In fact, when the New Testament itself was written as a collection of letters, the mailing information wasn’t a building’s address, but people’s names. The church always has and always will be a people and not a place – something we experience less like a noun and more like a verb.
So no, right now we don’t get to “go to church” for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean the church is on hold. Instead, this is an opportunity for us to explore what it means to be the church. How we can be the church at worship in the quiet of our home around an open bible or in prayers whispered over a cup of coffee or united around our computer screens. How we can be the church in action and witness over the phone or internet connections with neighbours and loved ones or even in how we ship or wash our hands or make decisions about where to invest our time and resources. And how we can be the church in our hearts, responding to the opportunities around us out of faith and hope and love, not fear and anger and self-reservation.
Yes, going to church dies seem like “a mind-boggling sensuous pleasure” right now. But maybe you will get a glimpse of how much more being the church can be.