In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. – Romans 12:5 (CEB)
Today I went to Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church to worship. I’m not going to write about this experience today but in my next post because my experience only makes sense in relation to my worship over the last 18 months (see Unexpected Sabbath to understand why 18 months). Over the last year, I’ve participated in worship at many different churches. While I continue to be thankful for the Body of Christ and to be welcomed to worship our common God even when I don’t know anyone, it has been difficult.
For so long, Sunday morning worship has been important to me. Being in a community I loved for worship has at times brought me to tears of both joy and pain, of hope and hopelessness, of beauty and heartbreak. I needed both worship and community to get me through my week.
While it has been a joy and privilege (and educational) to worship with 18 different faith communities in 2014, it is also a sorrow. I’m a member of the Body of Christ but this doesn’t translate to actually belonging to a particular worshipping community. I’ve continued to worship but my worship has not been complete.
What I didn’t realize before was how important it was to know those I was worshipping with. Some I knew well, others I barely knew. But as we worshipped together, it was important to be in sacred space with people whose stories I knew – and who knew my story. Together we were a great cloud of witnesses – and songs, prayers, Scripture passages all spoke not just to me but to the collective “us.” And it was not just me but the collective us that responded to and worshipped God.
This holy sorrow is now a part of my community worship (although maybe it’s just corporate worship when you don’t know anyone). It is not a sorrow that I pray to be released from but a sorrow that has deepened my understanding of both my personal and communal relationship with God. It is a sorrow that has brought a weightiness to my understanding of worship and Christian community. It is a sorrow that somehow brings joy (is there such a thing as joyful sorrow?).
I’m not referring here to our personal worship or spiritual disciplines. These are important but at some point we need to be rooted in something that is bigger than ourselves. My worship and my faith were never meant to be experienced alone. They must be in constant conversation with a community. It is in community that we are both challenged and challenge others, that we give and receive mercy, that we help and are helped. It is in community that we discern God’s call for us in the world and find our partners to go out and do it.
It is a holy sorrow to worship without beloved community. It is still worship and it is still to be my primary response to God. But it also reminds me that God never meant for us to be alone. Thanks be to God.
Then the LORD God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper* that is perfect for him.” – Genesis 2:18 (CEB)
*Please note that “helper” is not in the terms we generally understand it. It is the same word used to refer to God in Psalm 121.