Friday, July 29, 2011

An Ancient Tradition

We just returned from a trip to San Diego, and just as every time we travel, I am so grateful for the time we've been able to spend with friends.  In addition to the friends we stayed with, visited, and planned to see, we also went to the church in Oceanside where we used to be members, where we saw a number of friends.  Moving around a lot as we do, it is always wonderful to visit our former churches and see friends there.

Several weeks ago, my friend Rachel, who was also a member of that church at one time, but who has also since moved with the military, was visiting friends near where I live now.  She messaged me Saturday night to see where we went to church here, and we got to spend time with her that Sunday morning.

Sometimes when we are traveling, we attend a church somewhere where we don't know anyone.  We almost always feel like we are welcome and part of the family there.  I enjoy visiting with people, but I also enjoy worshipping with them.  I enjoy taking communion with them.  I always think how my parents, my grandmother, friends back home, and friends I haven't seen in years are also worshipping and communing with God and others at the same time (or maybe removed a few hours by the time difference).  In fact, around the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ are worshipping, fellowshipping, breaking bread, and listening to teaching from the Word, all within that 24-hour period, every week.  Some are in mega churches, some are in tiny country churches, and some are meeting in hiding.  The music is different, the clothes are different, and the meeting houses (or lack thereof) are different, but we all meet for the same reason - to remember and glorify Christ.  It ties us together and unifies us in a way that nothing else can.

Is it important to meet in corporate worship every Sunday?  Can't I worship just as well at home, in my own personal retreat in the woods, or in my hotel room?  To be sure, there have been times that I have not attended church on a Sunday because I was sick, one of my kids was sick, or something happened when we were traveling that prevented us from attending.  One year, we moved across country in the month of July, and since we had to move our dog with us and it was too hot to ever leave him in the car, we did not eat in restaurants, shop in stores, or attend church for several weeks.  We were relegated to getting food at drive-ins and eating at picnic tables in parks where we could find shade.  To be honest, we really missed attending church on those Sundays.  Why do we feel this draw to be with other Christians, even if we don't know them personally?

I think about the early church, in the first century.  Jesus established the Lord's Supper on the night He was betrayed, and later, His followers began the practice of meeting on the first day of the week, the day He rose from the dead.  (Many of these followers were Jews, and they probably still met at Synagogue on Saturday, the Sabbath, with other Jews; then on Sunday, they met with other Christ-followers.)  When they traveled from place to place, they sought out other believers.  In Acts 16, Luke writes about traveling with Paul to Philippi.  In verse 13, he tells us that "On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there."  They were looking for a synagogue, where they could meet with other Jews and possibly some who were believers in Christ.  While there was no synagogue in Philippi, there were believers in God who had met near the river on Saturday morning, just where Paul and the others would expect to find them.  In an age before cell phones, radios, or satellite transmitters, the believers simply met at the expected place at the expected time every week, and then they could find each other and worship together.  Acts 20:7 gives an example of the Christians meeting for communion on the first day of the week.  I Corinthians 16:1-2 talks about taking a weekly collection on the first day of the week.  While exact, detailed directions are not given (God evidently wanted to give us freedom in our worship and services), the precedent of coming together on the first day of the week was established two millennia ago.  And while not every church participates in the Lord's Supper every Sunday, many do.  I believe that this practice - meeting together to participate in "the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42) - has probably been upheld somewhere in the world every single Sunday for the past 2,000 years.  That is quite a tradition!

If you have lived in one place most of your life and have been a member of a church, you probably know those people well and are used to the routine.  If, however, you move or travel frequently, you may have a different experience of how great it is to be part of such an awesome and ancient tradition.  To go to a new area and know that there will probably be believers with whom you can worship on a Sunday.  Old friends, family members you haven't seen in a while, or new friends whom you are meeting for the first time - all brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is a tradition worth keeping.  Being a part of the church universal is what has given us friends, family, and continuity as we move from place to place with the military.

If you have never been a part of this great family of believers - the body of Christ on earth - come break bread with us.  We'll see you Sunday morning!

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