Can I be honest? I don’t like preaching to cameras. But I don’t mind “watching” church at home Sunday mornings. It’s comfortable and convenient. I can sit in my favorite chair, with my coffee in hand, and worship, whenever I want, wearing whatever I want. Convenient, right? And I don’t mind it. But for me it will never replace in-person worship. For lots of reasons. And one of these reasons came to mind today as I was reading a blog post by Doug Eaton, who makes this thought-provoking point: “The inability to get up and walk out without causing a scene is one of the reasons we need to go to church regularly and sit under the Word of God. It is one of the reasons virtual church will never be as beneficial as actual church attendance.” (You can read the rest of his article here: What I Love Most About Blogging)
That’s a new reason for me, but he makes a great point, doesn’t he? Worship is a discipline, a spiritual discipline, and like any discipline, this means that it requires something from us that won’t always be comfortable and convenient. That’s true of all disciplines, when you think about. You won’t be able to run a marathon or learn to play a musical instrument without doing some things that won’t be comfortable or convenient. So, it’s true in all aspects of life, but we don’t always realize how true it is of worship.
Think about what happens when we come together for in-person worship. We leave the comfort of our homes, not whenever we want, but at the appointed time. We arrive at church, and we turn off our phones and electronic devices (at least that’s true in our tradition). We gather with people who may or may not be members of our family, or even people that we consider friends, and we give our shared attention to God. We don’t leave the sanctuary unless there is an emergency. We don’t “fast-forward” through the boring parts of the worship service. We sit and listen to readings that we did not choose. We sing hymns that we did not choose, hymns that we may not even like. We confess our faith with words written many centuries ago by people we’ve never met, words that may or may not seem relevant to us on any particular Sunday, and on and on.
We do lots of things when we worship in-person that are not necessarily comfortable or convenient. And all of these things, in all kinds of small and subtle ways, help to transform us, to change us. They help us as a community to become the body of Christ. And they help us as individuals to become followers of Jesus. All of these things that we do when we gather to worship together help us to turn away from ourselves, and what we find convenient or comfortable, in order to worship the God who calls and gathers us together. Or, to put it in scriptural terms, all of these things that we do in worship help us to live out the instructions that Paul gave to us in Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1-2
When we “present our bodies as living sacrifices,” holy and acceptable to God, by worshiping together and in-person, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, slowly but surely, in a way that watching a worship service at home simply cannot do.
I am thankful that we are able to offer online worship services; I truly am. I spend a lot of time preparing these services, as do others in our congregation, and they are truly a labor of love. And I hope that we will continue to offer these online worship services even after we are able to return to in-person worship, because there will still be people unable to gather in-person. But these online worship services will never replace in-person worship for me. I always knew that, but today I have learned one more reason why.
So, I look forward to the day when I have to wake up, shower, put on my church clothes, and come to church again on Sunday mornings. I look forward to singing hymns with my worshiping community, hymns that I may or may not like, and to hearing readings that I did not choose. And, at least in my case, I look forward to seeing the people to whom I have been called to preach God’s word. I look forward to the day when we can gather together again, in-person, to slowly and surely be transformed into the body of Christ that we already are, and that we are still becoming. And now, in keeping with the spirit of this article, I will scripture the last word:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:23-25