Why Pastors and Priests (like me) Need Church…
10 As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud 11shining with the dazzling light of the LORD’s presence, and they could not go back in to perform their duties. 1 Kings 8:10-11 GNT
20I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into gladness. 21When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. 22That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you. John 16:20-22 GNT
While they are thus in fear and terror, the Lord brings them peace, not by removing any danger, but by quieting their hearts.
Now the liturgy is meant to form the individual Christian. Hence we have to learn how to understand its symbols, in order to absorb the lessons which they convey. But at the same time the liturgy is more than symbolism and more than ritual. Through the medium of the Church, which He has entrusted with the task of guiding, sanctifying and instructing mankind, God exercises a sacramental action upon the spirits of men of faith.
I have been thinking about church a lot recently, trying to understand why in parts of the world, the church is growing faster than it ever had, and why in others, it is rapidly shrinking.
I would love to blame the shrink on the amped up political atmosphere, as extremists in every spectrum try and force their way into power. Whether it is legalism or lawlessness, whether it is tieing to the secular conservatism or secular progressivism, the tactics are much the same.
I could blame it on apathy, and a country not able to escape the consequences of isolation.
I could blame it on a season dominated by every sin and temptation known to mankind.
Placing blame will do nothing – except causes dissention, more division and accelerate the decline of the Church, as sanctuaries empty—as they no longer are sanctuaries, as people find no refuge or peace in the places dedicated to communion with God.
I need the church to be such a place–a refuge, a sanctuary, the holy ground were peace overwhelms the struggles I am embroiled in this life. Luther’s words resonate with this, as he pictured God not taking away the struggles, the chaos, the anxiety or the pain. Instead, He quiets my heart, and the hearts of those with whom I share God’s word, the peace given them as I share with them the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Merton identified this as the sacramental action of God, as He pours out the blessings, the mercy, peace and love which forms us, creating a faith, a dependency on God, wherein the awe we find in His presence, makes everything else an inconsequential shadow. That all sounds like heavy theology tainted with a bit of mysticism.
I wish I could explain it in a simpler way, but the peace of the moment is beyond explanation, Jesus illustrates it well, in the moment a new mom holds her baby, and all the travail and even the mess isn’t important… the baby is here..
or in our case, God is here.
and like the priests – we are so in awe, that all we can do is enjoy the presence of God.
(Merton was wrong – this isn’t individual. It is who we are…together – the family of God)
This is why I need the church, the people of God gathered around His word, the people who receive His sacraments… who experience His peace..
I get to see it, facilitate it and that is awesome… but what is better – I participate….
I am so looking forward to this tomorrow… will you join me… either at Concordia, or with the saints in another location, but sharing in the same presence of the same Lord.
Please… come and know His peace and healing!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 138.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 160.
Posted on April 15, 2023, in Augsburg and Trent, Life in Jesus, Martin Luther, Ministry together, Peace, Thomas Merton and tagged Church, Eucharist, hope, Lord's Supper, peace, sacrament. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.