Genesis 2:18: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone”
Two hundred and one people came to the wedding of Jane and me early this month. It was wonderful to have relatives from smaller states come to Juneau. It was heartwarming having our friends attend with their smiles. When we began to plan our wedding, we thought first of gathering our congregation around us. At that time we contemplated those who attend the early morning service at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church with us. We learned from our friends that our congregation was much larger than 20 early Sunday risers. A congregation is all of the people who join you in corporate worship.
Corporate worship, contrasting with individual worship, is where we unite ourselves with others to celebrate the sacraments. Jane and I studied the traditions of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony since the 11th century.
February 18, 1546 was the day Martin Luther became a member of the Church Triumphant, a euphemism for the day he died. Luther’s wedding to Kate was attended by the fellow who illustrated Luther’s books and his wife, Luther’s pastor and other friends. I like to think that Jane and I had more in attendance and that Juneau weddings are more spectacular than 16th century German Reformation weddings.
Preparation for our wedding day caused me to contemplate corporate worship. Meditating on the Nicene Creed, our statement of belief, which begins with the words “We believe,” I learned that worshiping together allows us awakening, belonging, growth, submitting to leadership and joy.
Corporate worship differs from private worship. Luther and Katherine, Jane and I and all those who attended both of our weddings had the opportunity to experience the awakening. I think the Psalmist intended this when he or she created Psalm 73; “It is good for me to be near God.” I find a greater sense of both wonder and comfort knowing I am sharing this awakening with a group.
Another benefit we all may have shared is our belonging. The wedding guests shared the good will and sense of belonging. Luther pointed out to me that the author of Genesis (2:18) said that it is not good for people to be alone. At our wedding we read a passage from The First Letter of John; that God is love. Love was shared by all of our friends. I wonder if they read this at Martin and Katherine’s wedding.
I do know that the bride and I experienced growth through celebrating our wedding and hearing the ancient words comparing our love to Christ’s relationship to the church. The prayers of the congregation changed our hearts and perhaps the hearts of others with strength, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). If nothing else, the congregation heard words in Latin, Greek and English that have influenced our culture for millennia.
There were many leaders at our wedding. However, the congregation gave themselves over to the leaders. In our wedding we gave ourselves over to the clergy and lay people who guided us through the sacrament and traditions developed over 3,000 years. As a congregation we embraced the leadership.
Lastly and perhaps best is the joy experienced in corporate worship. Each person’s joy is doubled when we worship together. The joy of celebrating in a congregational setting is not so much forgetting ourselves but the happy awareness that we are not alone having our souls satisfied. Martin Luther introduced congregational singing of hymns as well publishing a huge body of work for us to study together. The teachings are not new with Luther but can be traced back to the Middle Eastern and Egyptian ceremonies.
Lastly, Luther gave us this; “Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach.”
• Robert Coghill is a member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.