This year, our contemporary service is doing something very different for Good Friday. Instead of meeting at our central church for a congregational worship, congregants and friends are invited to join a “home church” in their neighbourhood, with a member of the congregation opening their homes to anyone interested. We’ll be one of the houses holding this home church, something we’re very excited about!
There is a long tradition of small church meetings happening in homes, often called “house church” or “home church”. Indeed, the first church meetings came together this way. Early Christians were persecuted for their belief, as they were perceived to be deniers and breakaways from the Jewish faith. Many Christians believe that the home church model is Biblically-grounded, and even that the first home church gathering was presided by Jesus, when he brought the disciples together in the “Upper Room” for the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39 John 13:1-17).
The Last Supper shared by Jesus and the twelve disciples is the foundation of the Christian ceremony of communion. Communion comes from the Latin word communio, or “shared in common”. The corresponding Greek word is κοινωνία, often translated “fellowship”. For Christians, communion then has many intertwining meanings, usually close relationship, though between Christians, community of spiritual fellowship, and a relationship with God. It is through the acts of communion as well as community that we connect with our saviour, and participate in fellowship with others, emulating the relational nature of God with each other. In meeting and making our houses a place of worship, we invite spiritual community into our homes, bringing private life and public worship together.
Scholars point to other passages of the New Testament to show that early Christians met together for fellowship in homes, including:
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20)
“Greet also the church that meets at their house” (Romans 16:5)
“Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” (Colossians 4:15)
Even today, in many parts of the world, house churches are held.
For many years all forms of religious meetings in communist China, including Christian church gatherings, were completely forbidden, forcing those that would meet to do so in secret in small gatherings in homes. Even today, the Chinese government has only allowed churches to exist under the strict regulation of the government, with liturgies and messages set out that honour and revere the government as much as God, if not more so. Because of this, many continue to meet in secret, in what is often called the “underground” or “unofficial” church.
Of course, many countries without persecution practice a form of home church, either as a primary congregation or as a way of practicing small group meetings and/or worship, as we will on Good Friday. Models like this are held up as a way of making church more relational, natural in conversation and fellowship, and an excellent way of building community. In this way both regular attendees and others interested in participating may do so, in a more comfortable and less formal setting. This location is also ideal for those who find a traditional church setting a trigger to old scars, or find a church an environment that they do not wish to embrace.
This type of worship will be entirely new to us; though I have been interested in the process I have never participated in this kind of fellowship. I am excited to be able to host others in this way, particularly as we meet to worship and contemplate the miracle and contradiction of Good Friday, a truly horrible day in history, but also the day of redemption.
As we move through the Easter season, I’ve worked to meditate and pray over the terrible, miraculous reality of Easter. Every year, I find Holy Week come with a flurry of activity, meetings and gatherings, without time to truly contemplate all that it means. I hope to be much more deliberate in my reflections on Easter this year. As we enter Holy Week, my hope is to consider and write through the week, and I welcome you to join me in this contemplation of God’s compassion, grace and redemption through the cross.