Meditations for Troubled Times
“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4:26)
In 1515, when John Calvin was six years old, his mother passed away. However, during the few short years they had together, his mother’s service and piety made a significant impression upon him. She was a woman of deep religious devotion who was committed to nourishing, comforting, and helping Calvin. When he was sick, she cared for him. When he was afraid, she comforted him. When he was wrong, she corrected him. Hers was the task of all mothers, which can also be said of the church. In Galatians 4:26, Paul compares the Jerusalem above—the church—to a mother. Elaborating on this, early Church Father Cyprian of Carthage wrote, “You cannot have God as your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” Further explaining Cyprian’s comments, John Calvin noted, “It is into the bosom of the church that God is pleased to gather his children, so they may be nourished by her help and ministry and . . . guided by her motherly care."
Just like with earthly mothers, the church is necessary and essential. We need the teaching, encouragement, comfort, help, and fellowship she provides. She is the kingdom, within whose fortifications we are trained and guarded. She is the household of faith, within whose walls we are disciplined and cared for. She is the temple of the Lord, within whose structure we find true joy and contentment. On Mother’s Day, it is appropriate to give cards, flowers, candy, and serve our moms because we love them. A similar kind of honor is due to our mother, the church. We ought to honor her by giving our time, talents, gifts, prayers, and service.
Sadly, though, there is a fast-growing trend in Evangelicalism, which misunderstands the importance of the church. As one popular Christian writer said, “A Christian can take or leave going to church.” In addition, some have surmised that our current crisis will further devalue the church in the eyes of many Christians. Online connections and instruction will replace in-person worship and ministry. Yet, if the church is like a mother, can we simply take or leave her? Can our connection with her just be a digital one? We would not treat our physical mothers this way. Why would we do this to our spiritual mother?
Such an attitude seems to minimize the importance of the church to Christ. Jesus gave his life for her. Moreover, this mindset lessens the church’s role in our lives. Just as a mother cares for the many needs of her children, so also the church kindly attends to those in her household. It is underneath her loving administration of the Word, sacraments, prayer, and discipline that Christians are nourished. Given her role, just like the mothers here at GPC, she is to be honored. How do we do this? Show up. Listen to her words. Receives her instruction. Enjoy her fellowship. Find comfort in her arms. We have not been able to do this as readily over the past few months. However, may we do so more faithfully in the weeks ahead.