“I won’t let cancer take away my Sundays” these are some words I won’t soon forget.
I heard them last Sunday from a sweet saint, who despite being in quite obvious pain made her way to church just like she had for the past year since learning about her cancer. Soon she’ll begin her second bout of chemo and she requested prayer from the elders. She went on to say that despite being in great pain she simply didn’t want to miss out on worshipping God with her brothers and sisters in Christ.
The profundity of her mumbled explanation for why she hadn’t stayed home this Sunday or any in the last year for that matter hit me hard. I’ve always said that there’s no place I’d rather be than with God’s people on Sunday morning and Sunday night but I’ve never had cancer in my lungs. Perhaps the bed would be a greater desire for me if I had cancer. And yet for this sweet saint, church was better despite the pain she incurred in coming.
I couldn’t help but think about Hebrews 10:32-34.
Paul here in these verses is reminding the Hebrews about the former days when they suffered severe persecution for their faith. He says,
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.
Paul tells these people experienced some very difficult times. Losing their homes, beatings and imprisonment and of course many lost their lives as well. Meeting with and being recognized as part of the church was difficult. It could bring some serious consequences.
What makes these words outrageous is that they come after verses 24-25 where he says,
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Paul has the audacity to tell them not to neglect the gathering! Hebrews 10:24-25 is the famous go-to passage to take someone to if they have a tendency to skip church but a lot of times we fail to connect it to the words coming less than 10 verses later If they meet regularly they dramatically increase the chances that they’ll be found out and persecuted.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen to our churches if severe persecution were to come to our area. How often would people come?
Likely for some the fear of losing a house or a job might prove to be too much of a temptation and they would stay home most of the time. For others though, I suspect that the church would become more of an oasis and far sweeter than ever before. Something they would never, ever, want to miss.
Luther famously said, to gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer. I would add if I could that not only is it necessary but a natural overflow of that necessity would be a desire for fellowship. That the need would penetrate the heart and the emotions and that a person that truly grasps the importance of gathering with fellow believers will be looking forward to Sunday, and wouldn’t let much of anything stand between them and the ability to gather with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
There are many legitimate reasons to miss church, and this post is not an encouragement to go to church and get everyone sick. Many mom’s in particular come to my mind, who out of great selflessness stay home and miss out on church for the sake of others, they are not to feel burdened in any way. Of course, use wisdom in determining whether or not you should attend church on a particular Sunday. Talk about it with your disciple and with people in your church. Many times, skipping might be the best choice. This post is not a criticism of missing church for any legitimate reason. This post was borne out of a comment a sweet saint from my church made, who despite the trial she was facing and despite the pain she was suffering simply wasn’t going to let it get in the way of her and the chance to worship the Lord with her brothers and sisters.
In short, missing church seemed to make her sicker than cancer ever could.
May we too, love gathering with the church so much that missing church would bring us great sadness. May this also be a reminder for us to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are unable to attend and to be an encouragement to them as well.