Sunday, 30 October 2011

the Life of the Church

When moving to a new place, one of the things which must be considered is where to go to Church. I say must be considered, although it is arguably a symptom of our society's high estimation of "choice" that we think it necessary to "choose a church". Things to consider might be denomination, whether there's a band, the friendliness of the people, the soundness of the teaching, whether there is liturgy, I could go on...  I didn't particularly think through my choice of church when I went to university. A church was recommended, I went, I liked it, I stayed, and I had a good time there; the teaching was generally good, there were lots of people there with whom I got on very well, and I built some solid relationships with people who were willing to challenge my preconceptions and push me to really think some important questions through. Reflecting on my time there, I know that God was at work in my life, and that he used various people in the Church to carry out the work of admonition and instruction, we shared lives and pointed each other to Christ.

The one thing which I have since begun to question about this particular church's practice, was the lack of much liturgy, and the relatively infrequent celebration of the Eucharist. This is not something which is unique to that church of course; earlier today I was chatting with a Christian friend, who aged 23, has been a Christian all her life and yet has never heard the creed. I nearly dropped my LeCreuset dish, which I was in the process of washing up... Having been raised in the Church of England, I always find it slightly bewildering that church can exist without a regular proclamation of our faith. My experience has been that in churches that do not use the creed regularly, the preaching very often contains a "gospel message", so it is not as though the central beliefs are not being spoken/heard. The major difference is that the proclamation of the creed is a corporate proclamation of faith, in a way that a preached message never can be, whether because it is only from the mouth of one man, or because some of the congregation are not fully engaged. That the value of corporate proclamation is increasingly unrecognised says something about the changing way that Church is understood in certain circles. The creed gives the Church, every individual united together, an ownership of her faith, and a more radical picture of unity. The same is true of the Eucharist, because here the whole Church meets together at the table of our Lord, thus united in the taking of the bread and wine, being renewed together as we remember the presence of Christ with us.

Both the Creed and the Eucharist are acts of remembrance, but they are only properly experience if we understand what the Scriptural understanding of memory is. Modern culture seems to understand memory as thinking about something from the past, a nostalgic dwelling on things past. However, Scripture has a much higher view of the necessity of memory, using Alan Roxburgh's phrase "In Scripture, memory is what the skeleton is to the body - without it, all collapses into an insubstantial mess." (see his book "The Missional Church"). It is memories and the rehearing of those memories that gives Israel her very existence. It is clear that Israel's memory is not something confined to the past, about which to be nostalgic and get a warm fuzzy feeling, rather it lives in the present, through the act of Israel's remembrance (though also without it - they are no less God's people when they forget what he has done for them than when they remember - what grace!). The same is true of the Church. Our story is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of His life onto his people through the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is the centre of Christian worship, not because it is an act of remembrance of something which has brought us a great deal of good, but because it is a re-living of the life of Christ, it is remembering that makes the past present and allows it to influence the future. When Jesus says "do this in remembrance of me" he is not asking his disciples to be nostalgic about a time gone by, but to relive His story, and allow his life to shape and renew them once again.

As Christians we have the delight of a relationship with God, one which is made possible through the Presence of the Living Lord in our lives individually, but most truly in the Life of the Church. This is why the Church remembers Her story through the creed, through proclamation of Scripture and through the Eucharist, the story that gives her life and identity as the People of God and the Body of Christ. Church is the place where we can meet Christ united as His body, rather than as individuals. Church should be centred on the person of Christ, meeting with Him at His Table, as the Church relives the story that gives Her life.

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