Happy Birthday, Church of the Creator!
No, it’s not the anniversary of our parish or of the consecration of our church (coming up again in 2026!), but we are celebrating the birth of Christ’s Church universal and eternal, founded on the day of Pentecost. I’m celebrating twice this year because of the joy of finally being able to worship in our Sanctuary together. Welcome to the season of our longest season of the church year and a wonderful opportunity to deepen our understanding of what it means to have “tongues of fire” rest upon us. Pentecost is a big deal for us. Regathering in person in The Body is a big deal. Let us embrace all that God is laying out before us in blessing.
As we regather in the Church as the church, no doubt we give little thought to what that word means. “Church” is often used as the generic name for a place, much like “school” or “post office.” For us who love the beautiful sanctuary at Creator, perhaps the connotation contains a little bit more--comfort and security, perhaps, and fondness for a place we have come to know and love so deeply. When we speak of the “Church,” and really mean the building in which we gather, we are not completely incorrect. ‘Church’ finds its root in the Old English word cirice, derived from West Germanic kirika, which in turn comes from the Greek κυριακή kuriakē, which translates to “of the Lord” or “The Lord’s House.” In modern Hebrew, ‘Church’ is translated from the word k'ney'si'yah, which refers to a “building or organizational place.” Based on these Greek and Hebrew translations, then, the use of the word “Church” in reference to the building has merit.
There is another meaning of this word though, one which we reference often. The modern Hebrew word for Church is actually derived from the older biblical Hebrew word, mo'eyd, not for a “place to gather,” but for a people “gathered together.” In the New Testament, the word in the Greek translation of the Hebrew mo'eyd is ekklesia---“assembly.” This is the word used by the New Testament writers to refer to the local gathering of those who believe in Christ, and it carries the rich Old Testament connotations of assembling together as God’s chosen people.
In the New Testament we learn that there is a blessing and value of “gathering in Christ Jesus” that goes well beyond social or logistical purposes. St. Paul uses such phrases as “when you come together as a church” and “the whole church comes together” (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23) as distinct events reflecting devotion to Jesus. Gathering as the “church,” St. Paul admonishes everyone to teach and encourage one another singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16); reading Scripture publicly (1 Tim. 4:13); encouraging one another (Heb. 10:24–25), and sharing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:17, 11:18, 33). This shared fellowship and responsibility is the purpose of the gathering; this is at once the reason the people are called together and the action that the gathering must accomplish. Of course, it is true that many of these things can and do take place among smaller meetings of the church (such as our Wednesday night Compline service or our Thursday night Bible Study), but these are derivative and bring with them the action of the Sunday church celebration. St. Paul was calling all believers together in “one place” to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and strengthened to “go and make disciples of all people.” (Matthew 28:9) Such commissioning and equipping simply cannot happen outside The Body of the gathered faithful.
In his earthly ministry, a reflection of God’s Divine intention, Jesus envisions “the Church” gathered as a whole, the ekklesia. The church must gather in Jesus’ Name to accomplish Jesus’ will and fulfill Jesus’ commands (Matt. 18:17, 20). Paul echoes this language as he instructs the Corinthians to implement church discipline “when you are assembled (same Greek word as gathered in Matt. 18:20) in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:4).
The church assembly makes the church visible to itself, as Harvard theologian Everett Ferguson puts it: “In assembly, the church… becomes conscious of itself, confesses itself to be a distinct entity, shows itself to be what it is—a community (a people) gathered by the grace of God, dependent on him, and honoring him. The assembly allows the church to emerge in its true nature.”  The church assembly also makes the church visible to the world. Why did God join Jew and Gentile together into one body? He did this “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).
Like Paul, John wrote of the Church in physical terms. In his apocalyptic vision recorded in the Book of Revelation, St. John saw the church represented by seven lamp stands. These lamp stands represent the church as being the physically present light of Christ in the world. Just as real candles illuminated the darkness during the first century, so, too, is the church physically to be the light of Christ. So strong is this understanding of the need to gather for the true consumption of the Gospel, that John writes in his second Epistle, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 1:12) Because the church is the worshiping, praising, celebrating body of Christ, John knew that his joy could only be complete when he was face-to-face with those others so called in Jesus’ name.
Throughout the New Testament, the witness of Paul, Peter, John, James, and the entirety of the Gospels compel us to gather to receive the Holy Spirit. It has been a long time and much has changed, but these truths remain the same and perhaps are more important than ever. Global pandemic aside, our modern days test us and strengthen us as to what it means to live and behave in a faithful, devoted community of believers. It is still a big deal, people of the light. I hope to see you all as we gather as the church to show whose we are, learn who we are, become who we are to be, and to rejoice and give praise to God for calling us to be. We are God’s people, Christ’s body, the Spirit’s temple, the shepherd’s flock, the vine’s branch, the kingdom’s citizens, the demonstration of God’s wisdom and grace—We are the Church.
Faithfully in Christ,
 Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 235.
Father Bill Burk†