Sometimes we experience “church” like we’re putting in our time for God. This is because most of the Christians around us view “going to church” as either something that we do for God (we come to church on Sunday to worship Him for what He’s done throughout the week) or as the place we come to learn about God or to learn how to live a better life. While there are elements of these things in what happens on the Lord’s Day, we miss the point if we make those the only, or even the primary, reasons for why we are in the church building with other Christians. If we view going to church in those terms, we will either satisfy our own self-righteousness when we are glad to be there, or we will feel guilty if we are not glad. And then, when there are “more services,” as in Lent and Easter, the burden will only grow.
However, the fact that we are not always “glad when they said, ‘Let us go up to the House of the Lord’” is only evidence that we need to be there. Because (as you’ve no doubt heard me say before) we do not “go to church” primarily to worship God (as that is commonly understood), nor do we go for any of the reasons that put me first as the subject of the verbs. This is why Lutherans prefer “Divine Service” for what is happening in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day. God (“divine”) serves us in Jesus Christ. He is the primary subject of all the verbs; He gives the Gifts; He does the work; He forgives sins and gives life. This is why gathering with the people of God is not optional—not because it is something you have to do to be saved, but because it’s where God delivers to you what He has done for you to be saved. The Divine Service is simply Jesus for you, and you need Him whether you think you do, or not. So do I.
Lent and Holy Week do not just mean “more services”; they mean more opportunities to hear what God has done for you in Jesus; more opportunities to receive His life-giving Body and Blood; more opportunities for Jesus to exchange His life for yours; more opportunities to be renewed by Jesus in the life He gives you. As with all the Lord’s work, there is both a command and a promise: a command to be present in the Lord’s House, to hold His Word sacred, and gladly hear and learn it; and a promise that God will do what He has promised to do in His Word and Sacraments.
Christ’s new-creation people know that their sinful flesh still clings to them, and that means that they will not always desire what is good (including hearing and receiving His Word and Sacraments); but, because they have received the Holy Spirit, they know and desire to be present where new life is given and their sinful flesh is daily driven from them. Faith in Christ desires, above all, Christ according to His own word and gifts. That is exactly what Christians will find in the Divine Service, during Lent and Holy Week, and beyond. May it always be so among us.
*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”