Sometimes it can feel like the suburban American church lives from Sunday to Sunday. We see the same people (at least we all look pretty much alike) when we walk in the doors and sit down in the chairs or pews. We sing familiar songs that make us feel good about being able to thank God for meeting our needs and wants. Once in a while we get a new chorus with similar words and another rambling tune that we can't remember during the week because it needs a whole band to make sense.
Usually we hear an interesting lecture based on a philosophy or idea about being Christian and how that works itself out, affirmed by a scriptural text where possible. If it's not connected to what we've been thinking about during the week, we have forgotten about it by the time we head to the foyer to shake hands before heading home.
I'm reading Church history and biblical narrative (OT Chronicles). It's a fascinating Story of intensity, heroism, pain and suffering, wrestling with life and death. Learning about the reality of "God with us" among struggles to find enough food and shelter while keeping one's children safe from kidnapping or starvation. God walking and working in the middle of languages, communities, and tribes.
This is the story of God's saving work in Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. I'm examining the Church, composed of tradespeople and scribes and people who loved to argue (rabbis). As the boundary between Jews and outsiders cracks and breaks open in the early Church, Good News of the Mystery of God-with-us spills into a decaying society, exciting and enraging. It brings hope and heartaches.
Some books plug the holes of my scanty Protestant grasp of ecclesiastical history, which fizzles with Constantine and the rise of the popes and begins again with Luther. I'm meeting martyrs and great writers. Ordinary people show their love for God by working among the poor and dying, rescuing infants put on Roman streets because they are girls, not boys. I imagine dusty rooms echoing with the scratch of quill to page as neatnik monks write exacting alphabets to reproduce scriptures for another faith community. Small groups of believers are huddled in secret, praying and wondering if today is their last. Big cathedrals evolve from high human ambition and architect's dreams through rock quarries and carpenter shops to become awe-inspiring arches, domes, and stained glass.
The historical sweep of God revealing himself and wanting to be known is full of people like us. It seethes with human feelings, thoughts, and actions lived in ordinary days and days filled with terror and change. Most of all, history tells the scope of the glory of God among us. Amid human failure and self-will, our God does not abandon or turn away. He always nurtures and multiplies a faithful remnant who seek him with all their heart.
When I go to church week after week, I need the bigger picture. The faith community is more than enjoying the same concert or the same lecture series. Gathering is participating in the faithful retelling of True Story. It's the communion of the people of God in our times and our places.
As societies and cultures change, each local church must open itself to hearing God's word for the day as well as the ages. We need to invite those still outside to participate in the narrative and become part of the cosmic drama others will study in days still to come.
[My local church is actually pretty cool. Check it out. I'd love to see you there, any Sunday!]