Christians need church – and I take it you know what I mean by that. All Christians need the sustaining power of God’s Word preached, prayers, fellowship, relationship, and praise -what we sometimes call ‘the means of grace’. We can structure those formally or informally, scale them up or down, make them contemporary or trad, but those are our soul food.
Lying in a hospital bed, or at home but forbidden from seeing anyone, you miss them. And if you’re too tired to read, which is quite normal, then you slowly become aware of your hunger and thirst.
Let’s be candid, the media don’t get this. Nothing in the daily paper fed my soul, even when I was up to reading it. The daily or weekly services on the BBC didn’t help because, beautiful though it might be, I couldn’t work out the words of the hymns or songs. True, I had the Bible read to me, which was a blessing, but most of the sermons made me turn off in disgust. I needed food.
In fact, of all the weeks of that deprivation, there were only two services that helped: one was the service from a lively evangelical church in Manchester, and the other was a formal choral evensong on Ascension Day, where the music was from Messiah, so I knew the words, and the Archbishop of Canterbury preached well.
Otherwise, the BBC’s spiritual offering was worse than nothing: it was homeopathic – a pretend medicine containing nothing of value. (By the way, of you’re going to pile in defending homeopathy, please don’t bother. After what I’ve been through I have no time for any alternative to true medicine. Just like I have no time for any alternative to the true gospel.)
I needed gospel water, and they offered me an empty cup of religion. Pray for them, because they can’t tell the difference.
Which has made me much more aware, as a pastor, to those of our fellowship who can’t be with us on Sunday. Our pastoral team has made a list, now, of people we’re pretty sure are in that group, and we’re going to be trying a more systematic approach to checking who’s missing on a Sunday.
It’s not easy to do, and there are a thousand distractions, but if Christians should spend time talking to and praying with one of their suffering members who has turned up, shouldn’t they find a way to spend time with those of us who can’t?
Don’t spend long – we can’t handle that much. But do give us soul food: a bible reading, a prayer. If you preached last Sunday, tell us what you said. Bring us bread and wine if we can eat or drink. And leave us a Bible. Somehow they’re not left in hospitals any more.
Those of us not in church need ‘one-anothering’ too.