If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me “I pray just fine at home. Why do I have to come to Church?” Well, I’d have a lot of nickels.
In truth, we don’t “have” to come to church. The weird draw of our old-timey language about our “Sunday obligation” coupled with threats of hell are long past. I don’t judge my friends and relatives who have chosen to leave the institutional church because 1. Jesus told us (repeatedly) not to judge others and 2. They have some valid experiences that, in my humble opinion, justify their hitting the road. Do I think God is going to send my relatives to hell because they don’t regularly attend Mass? Of course not, and I think we can safely assume that God is at least as merciful as me, right? We all know God is much bigger than that, or at least I hope we all do.
This being Christmas and all, maybe you haven’t been to church in a while, and you are only here today because “it will make Mom happy.” If that’s the case, I extend a genuine welcome to you and heartily commend you, because there are certainly many worse reasons to do something than “just to please your mother.”
At any rate, if you’ve been gone a while, my guess is that you have managed to survive, perhaps even thrive. I imagine you love and care for your friends and family, you pray, you give to your favorite charities, you recycle & vote. More than likely, you are a good, compassionate person who works hard and simply likes to sleep in on Sunday. Or perhaps you are a parent of a bunch of little people who is weary of the struggle to get all your reluctant family members dressed and out the door only to end up spending half the Mass comforting or chasing your child in the vestibule which makes the whole effort seem rather futile. The more pointed question might be “Why go to Mass at all?” What is the value and gain of being here each week?
Personally, I think the onus to answer that question is on us – “the regulars” so to speak – those of us who are here each week. We are the ones who need to communicate the value of “hanging-your-hat” with us and give honest and convincing reasons why we believe that working and praying together is more effective and closer to Jesus’ dream for our world than operating individually. But words can only take us so far…
The tricky bit about the Sacraments and the experience of Christian community is that they resist being elucidated by words. Explaining Eucharist (aka Communion) is like trying to put into words what a deep, long kiss is like. The metaphysics of a kiss sound strange and maybe even a little bit gross, but when you experience it firsthand there is no denying its beauty and power. So too with Mass and the relationships formed here; they are experiences that slowly transform us, about as fast as the grass grows, and they simply cannot do what they are designed to do if we all sit quietly, praying alone at home.
When Jesus said, “where two or more are gathered in my name, I am with you” Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber cleverly points out that it wasn’t because Jesus was some kind of diva who needed a guaranteed minimum audience before showing up. Rather it means that God is to be found in our relationships – in our shared, sacred meal around this altar table that is designed to facilitate a real sharing of our lives with one another. God is the love between us – present in the way we hold each other up in tough times and even brings much needed growth through our conflicts and struggles if we can keep our cool (how are we all doing with that?). From the very beginning, faith has always been a team sport. And maybe that is because there are some things about ourselves, God, and life that we simply cannot learn on our own but need to be part of a community to discover.
If your experience today at Mass has touched on a faint but rather persistent longing that you suspect might be “of God,” please, come pray with us again. If you have been away a long while, no worries, we all have gaps here and there. No one is ever “behind” when it comes to God. We all are exactly who and where our creator intends us to be. I hope you hear in this short column that without exception, your ideas, good-spirit, and unique theological point of view are valued and very welcome here. Merry Christmas, from staff member Lisa Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org.