Why do we come to the Divine Service on Sunday? Normally we answer this question by referring to God’s gifts of the Means of Grace through which He delivers forgiveness to us and strengthens us in the faith. We stress our need for these gifts because of own sinful and fallen condition.
This is certainly true, and must be said first. However, it is not the only valid perspective from which we need to consider this issue. Instead of always focusing on what we receive, we need to also consider how our presence at the Divine Service serves others.
An early church writer in Syria addressed this very topic during the third century A.D. In the thirteenth chapter of his writing, the Didascalia (which means “teaching”) he urges:
“When you are teaching, command and exhort the people to be faithful to the assembly of the church. Let them not fail to attend, but let them gather faithfully together. Let no one deprive the church by staying away; if they do, they deprive the body of Christ of one of its members! For you must not think only of others but of yourself as well, when you hear the words that our Lord spoke: ‘Who does not gather with me, scatters’ (Mt. 12:30). Since you are members of Christ, you must not scatter yourselves outside the church by failing to assemble there. For we have Christ for our head, as He himself promised and announced, so that ‘you have become sharers with us’(2 Peter 1:14). Do not then, make light of your own selves, do not deprive our Savior of His members, do not rend, do not scatter His body!”
Paul told the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). We became part of the body of Christ in Holy Baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13). The most concrete manifestation of the body of Christ occurs in the Divine Service as we receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and are so joined into one body – the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
As the writer of the Didascalia points out, our absence from the Divine Service deprives the body of Christ gathered in church of one of its members. Our absence takes away from the mutual encouragement that take place as we gather together to receive Christ’s gifts.
Our presence at the Divine Service serves our own spiritual need for forgiveness and strengthening in the faith. However, our presence also serves the other members of our church who together with us are the Body of Christ. May our Lord help each of us to ponder and appreciate this important aspect of our life together in Christ.