In my first post for Covenant back in 2015, I noted how much I hated attending church as a child and how that changed over time due to immersion in the eucharistic liturgy. It’s a fairly common experience that children sometimes don’t see the point in attending church, or even outright resist it tooth and nail like I did. It can be difficult for parents to persevere.
I’m grateful that my parents made me go to church. And I’m grateful for the other adults, particularly Sunday school teachers, who were so kind and patient with us kids. They were saints. They planted seeds that eventually put down roots, grew, and bore fruit.
Attitudes that see Sunday worship at church as optional or even unnecessary are hardly limited to children and teenagers. Many of us have heard adults say: “I can worship God while walking in the woods or watching a sunset. Why do I need to go to church?” Or: “I can pray on the golf course just as much as I can in church.” Add into the mix the self-identification of being “spiritual but not religious,” and the question “Why bother with going to church?” may seem all the more pressing.
It’s certainly true that we can have profound spiritual experiences in nature. And I have no doubt that many have experienced God on the green, perhaps as much in the agony of defeat as in the joy of victory. As our prayer book catechism notes, there are “countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 861). God is not limited.
But the real issue is this: what does the Church give us that we cannot find anywhere else? What can we always count on, regardless of how we feel on any given day?
Jesus points the way to answering these questions when he says: “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4).
“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (John 15:4-5, The Message).
Jesus says that if we abide in him, if we stay connected to him, if we stay close to him, we will be grounded in that source of life apart from which we cannot bear the fruits of love and obedience.
Just as a branch finds its source of life in the vine, we abide in Jesus by making our home in his body, the Church. And that’s why regular participation in corporate worship — dwelling in the liturgy, making our home with the prayers, and receiving the sacraments of the Church — is so critically important.
It starts in baptism. For in the waters of baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death. And by these same waters, we share in his resurrection. Baptism intimately unites us with the Risen One such that our lives are now hidden with Christ in God.
And through this sacrament of baptism, God gives us a gift that can never be taken away. As our prayer book puts it: “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298). Everything else in our lives will pass away. But the unbreakable bond of our baptism will not. It’s an anchor that holds steady in a world of constant change. It’s a gift that weds us to a God who will never leave or forsake us.
We nurture, sustain, and renew the bond of our baptism through regular reception of the Eucharist. For by consuming the body and blood of Christ, we are physically and spiritually united with the divine life of the risen one who more deeply abides in us as we abide in him.
It’s true that we can experience God in countless ways in our world. But only in the Church do we hear the good news that God has overcome sin, sickness, death, and decay through the resurrection of Jesus. Only in the Church do we receive the gift of an unbreakable bond of love with the Lord of life in baptism. Only in the Church do we receive the real presence of the risen Jesus in the Eucharist that reassures us of God’s “favor and goodness towards us” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 339). Only in the Church do we receive “forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet” we will celebrate when God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 859-860).
We can count on a life-giving, life-sustaining connection to Jesus Christ through the sacramental worship and prayers of the Church. We can trust that these are sure and certain means by which we receive the grace that empowers us to bear the fruit of loving God and our neighbor. And we can be confident that by eating this bread and drinking this wine, we shall live forever (cf. John 6:51).