How do you know when you have been to church?
You could answer that question literally, “have you been to church today?” Yes or No. But the truth is even if you come to church, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have been to church.
We seem to know what people mean by the question and therefore answer it a physical sense that we walked into a building, sat in a sanctuary, opened a bulletin, sang songs, listened to scripture and a sermon, prayed, left the sanctuary, grabbed a cup of coffee, attended a Bible Study, then drove home. That’s what it means to go to church – right?
Yes, I suppose in the literal sense that is the pattern of a Sunday morning, but that doesn’t really define what it means to go church. To have really been to church, you need to experience some mystery, some sense of wonderment, some sense of the Holy Spirit that is necessary in order to fully know and experience church. – But there is more to it than that.
From its inception the church, people have been critical of what it is and what it should or should not be. Most people, I think, were well intentioned with their criticism, out of the desire of being faithful to Jesus. When Luke wrote his Gospel and told his account of Jesus life, death and resurrection, he knew that those who were hearing the Gospel were wanting to get it right. They were wanting to get Jesus right, to get his message right. They were trying to understand the meaning of the resurrection.
In the 24th chapter of Luke, Luke tells two powerful accounts in which Jesus shows up and assures them that he is risen and is still alive. Luke is trying to settle the theological meaning of the resurrection and secure the argument that it wasn’t a spirit that came back, but Jesus in the flesh, The first time, he eats with them, the second time he lets them touch him, to assure them that he is not a ghost. It is in the touching, the feeling, that there is a knowing that Jesus is alive. After he lets them see and touch, he teaches one more time. In John, Jesus last words are instructions to the disciples, feed my sheep. In Mark, the last words are to the women, go and tell that he is risen. In Matthew, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” They are all calls to action. In Luke, Jesus says, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”
This brings Jesus’ message full circle. He began out in the wilderness with John the Baptist, who was preaching repentance and forgiveness. He now finishes his time on earth by charging his disciples to carry on that message, to proclaim it in his name and in his place.
Jesus’ last words are not words of comfort, they are reminder of great discomfort, that he suffered and died so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations. There is an unsettling feeling here. – A feeling of unease. It tells me that if we don’t sit with Jesus and feel some unsettling, we may not be really sitting with Jesus. I would argue that you feel unsettled you have been to church. If you feel convicted, moved, a stirring to change to forgive and be forgiven, then you have been to church. If you feel as unsettled as the disciples did that day that Jesus appeared and invited them to touch his wounds and to look upon his hands and see the evidence of his suffering by hands of others, then you have been to church.
It’s too bad that Jesus doesn’t fit the mold we want him to fit. It’s too bad that the feeling of going to church isn’t the same feeling as winning the lottery. But when was the last time you won the lottery? Life isn’t about winning the lottery. Life is messy and challenging and unexpected and humbling, and it is in life that Jesus appears.
He didn’t come to make sure our dreams come true. He didn’t even come for security. Rather he came to earth, died and was resurrected so that we would be awakened and unsettled as he was and is by the sins of the world. He wants us to look at the sins of the world and be as sickened and disturbed as he is. He wants the world to repent of those sins, to confess and to change. There should be a feeling that things aren’t right in the world and call to action to change it. You have been to church when you feel unsettled.
It’s been two weeks since the excitement of Easter Sunday. There has been time for doubts to creep in and news to weigh us down and the ongoing challenges of life to present themselves. We’re all on that Emmaus road, trying to figure it out. But whether we can see or not, the risen Christ is walking alongside of us, because he loves us, loves us more than we can imagine and because he so wants us to know of that love and to be more loving because of it. He wants us to be more than comfortable. He wants us to have new life.