It is a given at so many churches that we’re supposed to “go to church,” but what’s often missing is “why.” I’m still surprised how often, when I ask this question, many in our congregations don’t know. Yet knowing the “why” makes the difference between going through the motions and doing what we do on purpose. It keeps us focused.
So, church, why do we gather together?
The word forms us as the liturgy postures us
The word ought to permeate our entire gathering, from the music to the liturgy to the message. We are who we are – and are growing – because of God’s story. When the scriptures are read, we hear from a part of that story to remember who we are. When we sing, we sing of our part in the story. When the word is preached, we receive new insight into our identities as children of God and practical ways we might live that out in our world moving forward. In short, our “gathered-ness” is meant to form us further into the character of the God who created us.
While one can often tell what a person is thinking by the way they are postured, one’s posture can also influence the way that person thinks and feels; our hearts and minds are directly influenced by the way we position our bodies.
In silence, we posture ourselves to hear and receive what God is telling us. When we bow our heads or kneel in prayer, we posture ourselves in submission to God. In sacrament, we embody God’s story through participation in that story. In the tangible acts of breaking bread and drinking of the cup, the story becomes a physical part of us. As we are immersed in water and raised again, we experience a likeness of death and resurrection that is solidified in our memories in a way that using only words could not replicate.
When we sing, we create a posture – open mouths, open arms – that in turn opens our hearts and minds to what God is doing in our midst. The lyrics, the melody, the harmonies – all the elements that make the “vibe” of the music – posture us toward spiritual transformation because by singing the words with our own lips and vocal cords and diaphragms and hearing them sung back at us by our brothers and sisters, we tell the story of which we are a part. Together, as a community that is now one body, we are transformed, grown, even made new as we sing of God’s character, of the mission of God in our world, and of our part in the bigger story of creation, death, and resurrection. It is song that often keeps the story on our minds long after the service is over. We become what we sing.
The Gathering Sends Us
But to make the gathering the point is to miss the point. We gather together to be sent together.
Paul said it like this: “in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God; this is true worship.” (Rom 12:1) That’s what worship is: an active, rhythmic response to God’s mercy as we gather and as we are then sent.
With the hands we have lifted, the voices with which we sang, and the ears with which we have heard, we go into the world to hear and to speak and to work. The mission of God is our ultimate purpose; our gathering and our sending are but vehicles of that mission. Together, they are our part in God’s story to bring about the transformation God so deeply desires – the reconciliation of the cosmos to its creator.