Keeping the Mass in Christmas
I have recently engaged in conversation with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ on the question of why a congregation should worship on Christmas Sunday morning. Some churches are not worshiping together this Sunday because they feel that Christmas morning is a time for families. In the orthodox Christian tradition, Christmas Day not a family gathering but a feast of the Church.
Christians have met for Word and Sacrament every Sunday morning for 2000 years. Each Sunday morning is a Feast of the Resurrection. This Sunday is no different simply because it happens to fall on Christmas Day. On this Sunday we gather for two reasons: to celebrate the Incarnation and the Resurrection. I personally find this to be a compelling reason to at least offer the possibility of worshiping together on Sunday morning, even though there will be many who will choose not to join us.
So, why gather for worship? The Nicene Creed says that there are four "marks" of the Church. The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Meeting this Sunday is one important way that we show ourselves to be the Church.
The Church gathers this Sunday because we are one. We are scattered throughout the world during the week, but we constitute the Body of Christ on Sunday, both revealing and participating in the Oneness that Jesus prays for us to have (John 17:21). Oneness is not merely theoretical, it is practical as well. Incarnation is not just something Jesus did, it's something the Church does as well. If we are not physically in proximity, at least weekly, how can we be truly one?
The Church gathers this Sunday because we are holy. That word means "different." We are not like the world. The world stays home, gathered in select groups. We may do that, too, but we also set aside time to be with all of our Christian brothers and sisters. By doing this, we are an affront to the culture that says "family first." We say to all people--to singles, the widowed, the divorced, the homeless, the lonely--that they are equally part of the Body of Christ. They don't have to "find a place to be" because they have a place to be. Your family status does not determine your value.
The Church gathers this Sunday because we are catholic. Catholic means "for all people, of all people." We meet in public, and invite the public to all of our worship services. We hold no one back (unless in the most extreme of circumstances) from meeting with us. No one is greater or lesser in a place that is here for none of us, but for all of us. Our worship is not centered on any generation, race, gender, class, or group. Rather, it is centered on the One who has made the day.
The Church gathers this Sunday because we are apostolic. The apostles themselves told us to gather (Hebrews 10:25), and from early days this meant worship on Sunday mornings (Revelation 1:10). Jesus commanded us to preach his Gospel (Mark 16:15) and remember him in Communion (Luke 22:19). We believe that Word and Sacrament are fundamental not only to Christian worship but to Christian life. By participating in worship with a community that is under apostolic authority and open to the public, we are doing everything we can to ensure preaching of the true Word and right administration of the Sacraments.
One issue I am running into is that we Christians have different understandings of what is happening on Sunday morning. For some, our gatherings are just one of many programs. True worship happens anywhere, at any time. Sunday morning isn't categorically different. For those folks, I totally understand not meeting on Christmas. I'd frankly understand not attending church services at all. If my faith is about me, my family, and Jesus, then why not?
But that isn't the Faith as the Church has understood it throughout most of the earth through most of the centuries. The Faith is corporate, as well as personal. Catholic, as well as individual. Sacramental, as well as experiential. When we catholically worship together in Word and Sacrament, His grace is poured out, and we are given the opportunity to worship in Spirit and in Truth in a way that doesn't happen otherwise.
Finally, let me remind you of Paul's words in Colossians 2:16-17: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." Some of you will not go to church on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Let no one judge you, and let none of us judge those who do not attend church. This is not about what any individual chooses to do; rather, this is an explanation of what we are doing, and an exhortation to consider joining us. I don't judge pastors who cancel their worship services. However, I will happily challenge them to consider what they are doing, and what they are communicating to the Church and the world.
Bless you all. Have a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas,