Go to Church?
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
From time to time, I would often hear some people questioning the need for Church. “Why do I need to go to Church anyway? I can worship God at home.” Others say, “I have nothing in common with those people in Church. I can say my prayers with my family at home on Sunday and that would be good enough.” “I hate going to Church. I can’t sit with a bunch of hypocrites and show-offs.” “Church is boring. It’s the same thing all Sunday, bible reading with a long sermon, and Communion. Maybe once a month is enough for me.” And the reasons for not going to Church can go on. Yes, we can worship (and should worship) God outside Church- at home, while walking the dog, or doing the laundry. Pray without ceasing! (says Saint Paul). Yes, I often wonder myself what I have in common with people in the parish I serve, and I wonder why I stick around. And yes, sometimes I find Church boring, and don’t like stuffy, stuck up people.” But there we go…at least once a week. So why?
me attempt to answer this question with a personal story from my own childhood.
One day, when I came home from school for lunch- I was in first grade at that
time- I found that we had a new table in our dining room. It was not a particularly
beautiful table. But it was functional, made of concrete, metal and tile.
My grandmother who had it made wanted it that way. It was so heavy that I
was told that it took about nine men to deliver it to our home. It was constructed
to be almost immovable so that it could survive many floods and earthquakes
as the Philippines is prone to floods and earthquakes. But it was not the
table that is particularly special, but what happened around that table. You
see, it was around that table that I learned the rules of relating, the rules
of relationship, relationship with my family, and relationship with those
outside my family. It was around that table where I learned who I was, my
identity in relationship to others. It was in that table fellowship where
I learned how to share- share food and drink with one another, and not just
think about myself. It was at that table where I learned of my responsibility
to serve, especially my elders, or my younger siblings, or our guests. It
was around that table where I learned to listen and care for what others have
to say, not just be so self-absorbed with my own drama, or problems. It was
around that table where I learned to welcome guests, strangers, and even those
whom I didn’t particularly like. And having to share that table with
five other kids who did not always get along - in fact we had had many fights
around that table- it was there, however, where I learned to live with differences,
and it was around that table where I learned a whole lot about dealing with
conflicts. Now, I realize my grandmother’s wisdom to have a table constructed
in such a way that that table became the bedrock, the foundation, so to speak,
of our family life. The fellowship around that table shaped and maintained
our family identity. It also shaped the way we relate to the world.
On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus gathered his disciples, his friends, around his Table and gave them the commandment to love one another. Jesus said that his community is recognized by the presence of love. A community is said to be Spirit filled when members abide with one another in mutual love. But we know from our own experience that this talk of love is easier said than done. It is easy to philosophize, even theologize about love than to practice it. But if there is anything that Jesus didn’t do, he didn’t philosophize or theologize much about love. He did speak of the commandment to love- love one another, love our enemies, love the poor, the sinners, and the sick among us. But he did not have an extensive discourse on love. But what the Gospels do show is that he practiced love though his actions. And there is one particular action that Jesus used consistently during his earthly life and ministry in order to show what love is. And that action was his open table fellowship with everyone, including and especially those who were rejected or hated by society- the prostitutes, criminals, the sick and the weak, the shady characters like the tax collectors- people that no one else wanted to care for or no one else would bother invite to the dining halls of their homes.
Interestingly, in John’s Gospel, the commandment to love one another was given during the time when Jesus was having his last table fellowship with his friends. It was in that table fellowship that the disciples learned what love was all about. And so the Gospel of John tells us that it is also in table fellowship with the Lord and one another that we come to know what love is. That is why fellowship at the Lord’s Table has been, from the beginning, the primary symbol not only of Christian worship, but also of Christian life of loving. Yes, it is true that we gather around the Table to receive the Lord really present in the sacred Bread and Wine. But we also believe that the Lord is also present in a different way; he is present among all members of the gathered community who abide with one another in love. So not only the Bread and Wine, but the community that embodies love become the Body of Christ. But becoming this community of love, this communal Body of Christ is an ongoing process. We all know that, either individually or collectively, we fall short of the ideal. We love all the time, true, but we often do not love well. And many times, we love badly. Sometimes, we love only ourselves. Or we love only those we want to love. We love only those who are like us, or those who like us. And we avoid those who are not like us, or those who do not like us. We avoid fellowshipping with those we find, for whatever reason, unacceptable. Because we always fall short of the ideal of Christian love, Jesus commanded regular and consistent Table fellowship where Christians could learn the correct rules of Christian loving. (Interestingly, whether a church is a storefront Baptist or Pentecostal church, or a Roman or a Methodist or Anglican, at the center of a church, one will always find the Lord’s Table.) Jesus commanded regular Table fellowship so Christians could rehearse and practice repeatedly the art of Christian “lovemaking,” just as musicians have to rehearse their art consistently to refine their skills. So we gather around the Lord’s Table (at least once a week on Sundays, and in some churches, daily) to practice and refine the art of Christian loving. We are to gather around the Lord’s Table not only to learn how to be present to God, but also to be present to one another. We gather around the Lord’s Table not only to listen attentively to God’s Word, but also to listen to one another’s concerns, fears, joys and struggles. We gather around the Lord’s Table not only to be welcome by God, but also to welcome one another in the name of Christ, especially those we would normally avoid in our table fellowship outside the Church. We gather around the Lord’s Table not only to receive God’s greeting of peace, but also to share that peace with one another, including our enemies. We gather around the Lord’s Table not only to receive forgiveness from God and those whom we have hurt and betrayed, but also to forgive unconditionally those who trespass against us. Our Table fellowship, therefore, shapes and maintains our identity as the Body of Christ; and in turn, it shapes how we are act in the world, how we relate to the world. For that which we learn and rehearse in our Table fellowship in church we are to practice likewise outside, right out there in the world.
The Church then cannot be a comfortable place to be in because Jesus challenges us to open ourselves in the spirit of love to all kinds of people- people we like, and people we don’t like. A few minutes before my ordination to the (transitional) diaconate, my Bishop took me and three others who were to be ordained with me to say some words that would encourage us in our ministry of service. He said that we must persevere in loving the people God has given us to care for, even in those times when God’s people become cruel and hurtful. That’s a tall order! Yes, God’s people could be mean. Yet, the Church is that place where we can learn to love, learn to forgive by truth-telling, confession and amendment, learn to make peace without violence, learn to go beyond ourselves and our self-centeredness and to practice a radical kind of a hospitality that is sorely needed in this world that has become inhospitable.
© 2004 Noel E. Bordador
Noel E. Bordador is a queer Filipino Episcopal (Anglican) priest in the Diocese of New York.
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