COVID brought with it a variety of things. It truly was a fascinating time to observe how the church responded. We had to answer new questions, such as things like drive thru communion, online communion, online worship, and such things. We were forced to ask questions of ourselves. Everyone sort of had to reckon with where they stood regarding their faith. A sort of winnowing happened, wheat and chaff were separated, and as the smoke and dust cleared, we now see what remained. Many, almost all churches closed for some period, whether it was a few weeks, or some even more than a year (God, forgive us) and were forced to conduct worship services via the internet, Facebook, YouTube, or another streaming option that took advantage of the times.
This raised another question that the church had to ponder and answer. What does it mean to gather? But even more so, what is the significance of the places in which we gather? There was a common trope spoken by many pastors and most Christians during the lockdowns, when churches barred their doors (Can I ask again that God would forgive us?), it went something like this, “The church isn’t a building, but the people. The people are the church.” Of course, this isn’t a false statement (Matt. 18:20). There is much truth here, the Body of Christ is made up of members of the church, the faithful believers who confess the Jesus of the Scriptures. Yet, at the same time, there was an unspoken confession, a symptom of this trend, the result of this is that the church building doesn’t matter.
Now sure, we ought to guard ourselves from caring more about the building than we ought to, we need to guard ourselves from forgetting to look outwards instead of only inwards, we need to guard ourselves from becoming a community that never leaves the building. Yet, we ought to appreciate the church building for what it is, a holy place that God has placed into the community, where His word is faithfully preached, and his gifts are administered to hurting and broken people. Whatever your church building looks like, whether it is an architectural wonder or a multiuse gymnasium, that is the please where heaven meets earth, where Christ is present among his people. This isn’t a new thing, God has given a designated place to his people ever since He established the tabernacle, where he dwelt among them. In the same way now, he continues to dwell among his people wherever the Word and Sacraments are present.
Of course, the church building may not always be something that we enjoy here in America. That doesn’t mean that holy places will cease to exist. Our churches are not holy because of their architecture, although they can help aid in reverence and confession, our church buildings are not holy because they are simply called a “church,” no they are holy because Christ makes them holy. They are the locative place where God nourishes His people. The local church building sees people adopted into the kingdom of God at the font of Holy Baptism. The local church building serves as the place where the family of faith gathers at the Lord’s table is served by Him. The local church building is where poor, miserable sinners enter, and exit as saints. No, the church building may not be the “church,” but the church building is the location where God gathers his people. So, as I have once written, make time for holy things, but also take time to appreciate our holy places. They matter to God, and therefore they ought to matter to us. So let us run to those holy places, and pray along with the psalmist, “ Lord, I love the habitation of your house, the place where your glory dwells.”