During this Holy Week, I'm observing the spiritual disciplines practiced by Jesus and considering their relevance to our life. In Luke 4:16-21, we read:
"Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written:
God's Spirit is on me; he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, "This is God's year to act!"
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."
One regular spiritual habit of Jesus was gathering with others for worship--"As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place." The Christian life is not a "lone ranger" experience; growth and maturity comes through the help of others as we abide in close community. For this reason, Hebrews 10:25 tells us, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
As a pastor, whenever I talk to people about church, I sometimes wonder if I'm encouraging them to attend because it legitimizes my job. If people are in the pews, then I have someone to preach to. But in reality, my vocation isn't about me--it's about ushering people into the presence of God, so they may hear and respond to the Good News.
Other times, I don't have to say anything about coming to church. People just volunteer their reasons why they haven't been coming or don't come. One common saying is, "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian." That's true. No good work makes anyone a Christian. What makes you a Christian is faith in Jesus to forgive your sins. And yet, the Christian who is not a member of a church is like the football player who isn't on a football team.
Hey, I admit, there have been plenty of times in my life that I've wanted to not bother with church. So I'm sympathetic, and sometimes a tad envious, of those who don't attend church.
But here's the bottom line: Jesus, the perfect Son of God, saw the importance of gathering with others once a week to worship. For this reason, he made it his custom.
If even Jesus saw the need for "church" in his own life, maybe I have that same need too.