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home church

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.

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“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” – Udanavarga 5:18 (Buddhism)

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.” – Galatians 5:14 (Christianity)

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” – Confucius (Confucianism)

“One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behaviour is due to selfish desires”. – Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Hinduism)

“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” – An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13 (Islam)

Across cultures, languages, faiths and philosophies, a variation of the Golden Rule is found. Western cultures often frame it in the way it is found in the Bible’s Book of Matthew 7:12, “Do to others what you would have them do to you”.

Despite such foundational teachings, we often not only come up short, but across history have written a story in blood of destruction, revenge, conquest and oppression. What do we do with such a terrible history? And about the history we continue to write today?

In the book “unChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity… and why it matters”, authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons reveal research done to see how the North American church is perceived from the “outside”. Their findings were anything but encouraging. Words like homophobic, bigoted, judgemental, irrelevant, hypocritical, insensitive and cold were some of the top answers.

And yet…

One of the most familiar passages of scripture is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is believed Christ was God in human form, without sin. He lived a life of grace and compassion, and surrendered to horrific death for our sins. It is a story of unimaginable pain, but also of sacrifice, redemption, love, and hope. This is the central tenant of belief in Christ, and the foundation of the Gospel, the “Good News”. When Christ invited the disciples to the Last Supper, he is also inviting us, to remember Him, and taste salvation.

Jesus often depicts salvation as a wonderful feast. In Matthew 8:11 “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their place at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” The familiar parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) ends in a great feast, echoing the feast promised by God at the end of history.

There are many reasons why Jesus describes feasts. In the book “The Prodigal God”, author Tim Keller writes “Jesus does so because there is no better way to convey vividly what it means to live out a life based on His saving work.” Jesus’ salvation isn’t cold, impersonal, austere. We are told that Jesus brings salvation the way a host welcomes honoured guests to a great feast.

So, with belief in miraculous salvation, with a relational God of love, how is it many Christians throughout the world are such a source of aggression, pain, fear, and oppression?

In the end, churches are made of people. People are human, and humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), yet can be just as much darkness as light, or even more. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), bringing compassion, warmth, understanding to the world in Christ’s name. Despite this, we often resemble something more of a nebulous creature of sharp teeth and poisonous, scathing claws.

What do we do?

Ultimately, we must re-focus ourselves, through self-discipline, prayerful study of scripture and turning to God for help. We must also turn to each other, and be able to trust in each other, and know that we will be there when our brothers and sisters ask. From there, we can begin to truly be a light in our world, and be the kind of people God calls us to be.

How can we do that?

We must truly become loving, not only to those that it comes easily to, but those we do not know, or feel great attachment or enmity towards, but even those that we may consider our foes.

There are many devotionals and different religious and spiritual texts that discuss living a more centred life. In “How to Expand Love: Widening the Circle of Loving Relationships”, HH the Dalai Lama writes practical instruction on how we may accomplish this. He writes:

“…pure compassion is not biased or partial; it is thoroughly imbued with equanimity and encompasses both friend and foe.

Without a sense of equality, unbiased love and compassion cannot even get started. Once you have generated an attitude of equality toward all, then it will be possible to view not just friends but neutral beings and even enemies with great endearment. This is not easy. It is difficult to develop a sense of closeness to everyone. Reflective meditation is needed.”

This is a terribly hard challenge, but one I hope we can all take up. May we come to see all people as truly equal, and offer everyone the love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness we crave for ourselves.

Father God, may we become each day more like You. May we strive continuously to understand the path you have laid for us, and truly understand what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully made by Your hands. May we hold close to our hearts the understanding of your divine promise and grace, and walk into the world every day projecting the love you promise to those around us. May we be a light in the darkness of the world, and shine warmth and compassion into a cold world. May we only do to others as we would have them do to us. In Christ’s name, Amen.