Wednesday Word: The Church Catholic
The church as the body of Christ shares in Christ's universal relevance as the place of the gathering of redeemed humanity through whom the whole world are to be reconciled to God. Such an exalted ecclesiology is antithetical to a conception of the church as a ritualistic vehicle to facilitate the private spirituality of individuals, withdrawn from the affairs of the world. – Alexander J.D. Irving, discussing theologian Henri De Lubac, Anglican Theological Review, Vol. 200, Number 2, p. 270
Every Sunday we gather together as the body of Christ to worship God. We come to sing, pray, repent, forgive, and be fed. We also do this at other times, such as Evening Prayer and the Wednesday healing Eucharist. But our primary day is Sunday. We do this, not because we are good people, but because, quite literally, it is (as Rite I says) our bounden duty.
The Catechism states that our duty as Christians is to follow Christ; come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. This is in line with our baptismal covenant when we promised to continue in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
Another way to look at it, and remembering our All Saints' celebration last Sunday, is that we are the physical representation and manifestation of the kingdom of God. When we gather, we gather with angels, archangels, and all the glorious company of the saints in light, both in ages past and those yet to come. This points to the catholicity of our faith – that what we do, we do for all; and that what we do is not individualistic worship among many, but worship by the gathered body for the whole of both church and world.
Worship can be spiritually uplifting. Worship can bring us comfort in difficult times. Worship can bring us a glimpse of the holy mysteries where we touch the thin space between heaven and earth. And worship can remind us that we are the connecting point between all humanity and God.
We do not come together week after week to withdraw or escape from the world. We come together week after week to draw the world to us and to God.
So the next time you are tempted to evaluate worship and the church community based on whether or not it meets your needs, remember that we gather with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven for the reconciliation of the world to God. We gather not to meet our needs, but to meet the needs of the world. We gather as the unified body of Christ, not as a random collection of cells.
This gathering, this body, this manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth, is stronger with you than without you, and we are diminished by your absence.