What do you think is the main point of church on Sunday?
If you think the main point is to teach, then our gathering will look like a lecture. All face the guy up front. Minimise ‘distractions’ from each other. Concentrate.That’s my main experience of church.
There’s also the various more entertaining concert options for Sundays:
- If you think the main point is to energise the congregation it’ll look like a Coldplay gig.
- If it’s to encourage families: the Wiggles (sorry Colin).
- If it’s contemplation: maybe Handel or Bach.
I’ve been pondering Jesus’ instructions for our gatherings. He didn’t give us a song or readings or recommend regular exegetical sermons (as beneficial and necessary as all these are). He gave us a meal.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
As I understand it, the main point of our meeting on Sunday is both celebration and anticipation.
We celebrate communion. I don’t simply mean the Lord’s Supper, I mean our fellowship with each other – the Body – and with God in Jesus, achieved by his death and resurrection (not this sort of xkcd communion). As we celebrate together, we proclaim his death. We also gather to anticipate the Wedding Feast, new creation in its fullness and all of us together with God.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
Neither of these – celebration nor anticipation – can be done without gathering. What kind of feast is enjoyed alone? How can we celebrate our fellowship apart from with each other? If meeting on Sunday is about anything else, well, frankly we don’t need each other there to do it. No matter how engaging or insightful the preacher is, there’ll be a better sermon free on the Internet. Great music is available elsewhere. If Sunday meetings are primarily about anything other than celebrating and anticipating each other in Christ, then there’s little reason for us to actually meet. Just download it from home in your own time.
So here’s my radical suggestion: let’s make Sunday gatherings a little less like a lecture and a little more like Christmas.
My family has its own Christmas ‘liturgy’ which we re-enacted last Tuesday. We welcomed each other, we served food, we listened to the wise words of our elders (grandpa’s notorious annual speech), we prayed, we feasted, we gave and received gifts and, finally, we lit the pudding and shared dessert. All of these elements were ways of expressing ourselves as family and celebrating our family.
Or perhaps a wedding reception is a more apt example – given that our Sunday gatherings anticipate the wedding of Jesus and his Church. The wedding reception celebrates the couple and guests have everything in common because of the couple. The reception builds as people testify about the couple, elders speak about them. At last, the bride and groom themselves speak to the guests, cut their cake and distribute it with their guests.
What if we used feasts and important celebrations rather than pop concerts or lectures as our template for Sunday gatherings?
- It would mean that tea and coffee would no longer be an optional extra after the service but sharing with each other would be an integral part of the gathering.
- It would mean configuring the space so that the congregation can’t be mistaken for an audience.
- It would mean celebrating communion as often as we gathered, but perhaps more in the form of a meal shared with the Body than a token ritual morsel.
- It would mean that the sermon would not not be the focus of the gathering, but still remain an important component (in the same way that the father of the bride’s speech is an important part of a wedding, but doesn’t compare to the bride herself).
- It might mean having fun.
(I’m not at all advocating abandoning Bible reading or prayers throwing away elders or teacher or church structures. Quite the opposite. I want more structure, more thought put into why and how we gather. Important celebrations such as weddings or Christmas have their own structure and traditions – when music plays, who speaks, when, why – in order to serve the celebration.)
What do you think is the main point of gathering on Sundays?
What could we glean from how we celebrate Christmas or weddings for church gatherings?