Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mark's thoughts: Attendance at the Divine Service - Supporting the Body of Christ

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.


  1. This is exactly what got us back into church. We saw that lines were being drawn in society over the healthcare mandate. We no longer (not that we ever did) had the option to be stand-offish. What was at stake wasn't our own spiritual growth or the other selfish desires that people often cite as reasons for going to church, but the body of Christ at large. More importantly the ability of the body of Christ to have an impact in this generation. If we were to be counted, we knew what side we wanted to be counted on.

  2. Well said. With your permission I'd like to use this in my congregation.

  3. Of course, please you it in any way you find helpful.

  4. It seems to me that a parallel can be drawn to practicing what our confessions state about celebrating the Sacrament on every Lord's day and other festivals. Even if for some reason you don't feel the need to receive the Sacrament, you should have your eye on your brothers and sisters who may be in desperate need of it. There are many ways our American individualism threatens the Christian community. You've put your finger on an important one.

  5. Amen! And especially so in a campus environment! Thanks for your words.