‘Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.’ Psalm 100
Brothers and sisters, it is with great joy that I can today announce that as of Wednesday (17th) we are able to open our church building for private prayer. It has been a long time coming, and I know for so many of us not being able to enter our church at this challenging time has been extremely difficult. This news marks only the ‘end of the beginning’ and there is still a long way to go before we get back to anything approaching normal, however, it is still a small moment of celebration, and it is right that we say ‘thank you’ to God.
It is providential, then, that the Psalm set for this Sunday in the lectionary should be Psalm 100 (quoted in full above). This short Psalm will be well known to the older members who remember the Book of Common Prayer, and would say this psalm - known as the Jubilate Deo - at each service of Morning Prayer. The psalmist calls on us to ‘Shout for joy to the Lord’, and this command is addressed not just to God’s people, Israel, but indeed to ‘all the earth’. Why? The psalmist makes it clear: for the God of Israel is THE God, the God who made us, the God who watches over us, and this God is a good and loving God who is faithful to His people. How should we respond to the God who is like this? Again the psalmist is very clear: shout for joy, worship Him, sing songs to Him, and finally, and especially relevant to us this morning, ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise’. The Hebrews were to attend the temple and worship God in its precincts. Now we must tread carefully, our church building is NOT the equivalent of the Old Testament temple. The apostles made it clear that the temple is replaced by Christ’s body, which is made up of those who follow Him. It is the people of God - the Christian people - who now form the place where God lives by His Spirit, not a building, however beautiful or old that building might be. That is why on our notice boards at the moment it can say ‘the church building may be closed, but the Church’ - that is us - ‘is open’.
If this is true, then, why celebrate being able to enter again our church building? Because the Christian faith is a physical faith. We are called to gather together. We are called to sing together. We are called to share the peace together. We are called to pray together. We are called to take care of one another together. We are called to study the Scriptures together. And we are called to celebrate the sacraments together. This worship is to happen ‘together’ and out of this worship springs our service to one another, and to our world. As we are called to be together physically, the buildings we meet in, and which are set aside (literally: consecrated) for this purpose, rightly play an important part in our faith. Because the Christian faith is a physical, sacramental, faith we recognise that being separated from one another is not a good state of affairs. We have tried to make the best of it; individually we have watched the same filmed services; individually we have prayed the same prayers, listened to the same hymns, and marked the same days. Volunteers have delivered these reflections to those without the internet, while most of us have found them on the church website. We have made the best of a bad situation, but we would be wrong to think that such individual worship, such isolated worship, will do, and is even the way we should do worship going forward. No, we have made the best of it, but as our faith is a physical, a sacramental, faith, there is only one place we want to be, and indeed only one place which we are aiming to be, and that is together in the building the Church has consecrated for our worship. This is the place many of you were baptised in, many of you were confirmed in, many of you were married in, and many of you have served in, week in week out. These physical expressions (baptism, confirmation, marriage, and service) are a sign of our faith, and have rightly taken place within the walls of the St George’s, Chorley. Ours is a physical faith, and this is why it has been heartbreaking when long-standing members funerals have had to take place away from our church, and why so many of you long to be back in the church building. The church building may not be the temple of God, but it is where the temple of God, where you and I, are meant to worship.
So, this week, from Wednesday onwards, our church building will be open from 10am until 1pm on Wednesdays and Sundays for private prayer. You will need to stay 2 meters apart, you will need to wash your hands, you will need to listen to the marshals, and you will need to not linger for conversation, so this is but a small step. But it is a step, nonetheless. And therefore, with the psalmist we we can say ‘Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth […] the Lord is good and his love endures for ever.’ Amen. (from Rev. Mike)