The universe and its human inhabitant are expansive mysteries open to their hidden ground. “Wisdom [the Word] has built herself a house. The power of God the Father, subsisting in himself, has prepared the entire universe as a home fit for himself, in which he dwells through his goodness, and the human being, who was created in the image and likeness of God” (Commentary on Proverbs by Procopius of Gaza, bishop, Cap. 9). God created the heavens and the earth, and placed the human creature in the garden; and God set out, walking in the garden amid the cool evening breeze (Gen. 1-3). The sciences and humanities, and the God who is present in them, may be searched and examined fruitfully and joyfully until the end of time.
God is present also in the household of the Church, a truth felt less strongly these days. This was, however, in many previous centuries a bedrock belief: Christ and his Church. It was not a question merely of “going to church,” though the gathering was important and participation presumed, but rather, the whole community had a deep sense that the risen Lord stood in its midst. “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19, emphasis mine). “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47, emphasis mine). The house and the bread are the Church and the Eucharist.
There are, to be sure, other ways that God may come to his people, but that is no reason for ignoring a deeply held conviction dating to the earliest days of the Church. A Christian, in other words, was held to be a communicant, an active participant in the sacramental life of the Church. Those who did not so participate were either outside the Church or within it though subject to its temporary penitential exclusion. The Church was held to be Christ’s living body, as Scripture well attests.
As Christ’s body, the Church is the guardian of teaching, fellowship, signs, wonders, the breaking of bread, and prayers (Acts 2). In all of these the risen Lord is truly present. He has burst from the grave and stands among us “that we may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). From other strands of Scripture and subsequent early developments, additional elements emerged, a skeletal structure of the Church, which again provided a sort of guarantee, under God’s care, that Christ would be present to the Church until the close of the age. There is a form: “bishops, priests, deacons, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist; Bible, creed, catechism; Christian week, Christian Day” (“A Churchman’s Duty,” Austin Farrer). And, of course, the spirit of the risen Lord animates the structure and makes it a living temple and a sacred home.
Can this be tested? In a sense, yes; the Church’s proclamation is available to everyone. A person may come to listen and look, to examine and participate, even if tentatively. This testing may be brief or extended, shallow or deep, but no one thing or event can force the hand of providence. In the end, God will do what God will do. And God’s Son is the shepherd who gathers, the gatekeeper who opens the door, the gate itself as he is the way into the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 23:5. The Church in dangerous times.
Think About It
You are a member of Christ’s body.
Image: Christ Pantocrator, from a mosaic in the church of Santa Pudenziana in Rome, c. A.D. 410, by Welleschik/Wikimedia Commons