Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
- Colossians 1:24-27
“One bright Sunday morning while the men were sitting on their bamboo slats,
Bill Gruber came running over yelling, ‘Anyone going to church?’
”’Nah, I don’t think so,’ said some of the men.
“’Some of you men are heathens for not wanting to go to church,’ moaned Alton Goff.
“’Alton,’ one of the men said, ‘someone would think you were on God’s payroll.’
“’We should all go to church and pray,’ Mason Meeks remarked.
“I don’t know why they call it a church. There were no pews or seats. We sat on the ground while Father Talbot, God’s helper, stuck his head out of a window and rattled away.”
- Abie Abraham, Oh, God, Where Are You?
The Scripture talks of the church being the body of Christ, thus the people who are members of that body. Having a building is not necessary. But to understand the set-up that S/Sgt. Abraham describes, we need the back story.
As for those encouraging others in this quote, Gruber and Goff were part of Abraham’s ‘gang’ that was mentioned in the post two days ago, Latest Latrine Rumors.
For roughly half the book, Abie Abraham creates a picture of the relationship between the captors and the captives. The Japanese running the POW camps wanted no organized activities among the captives. Religious ceremonies were high on that list of banned activities. The priests could do their jobs by praying one-on-one. They could give last rites. They could sneak a Bible from hand to hand. Every request to have a gathering of men for prayer and worship was shot down. The priests were told that they would be killed if the guards found them worshiping.
So, here you have a very brave Father Talbot sticking his neck out, literally and figuratively.
I have two battling ideas that flow through my brain, often, regarding church attendance. There was a western comic strip in the Sunday paper in my high school years, about the time when I graduated. The white-hat fellow with blonde hair was the sheriff, and his friend was a gunslinger wearing black and having black hair. In one strip, the gunslinger rode his horse through town on a Sunday morning and everyone in town condemned him for not going to church. In the final frame, the gunslinger is standing alone at the edge of the Grand Canyon, praying.
That comic strip and my experiences are what has caused a fifty-year battle within me. Some of the most meaningful worship experiences that I have ever attended, or where I took part, were not in a church building. In some cases, it was when I was alone, a worship service of one – that is, me and God. Yet, if I do not attend church on a regular basis, I slip into bad habits. Part of that is succumbing to temptation without the influence of other Christians pointing me in a more constructive direction, but part of that is enjoying solitude too much. I can only show God’s love when I am observed in doing so – meaning I have to be around others for that to happen. And to be honest, you can think you are doing a great job in loving others until you must show love to another flawed human being just like yourself. Then you realize how much your ‘love’ life needs to improve.
Having a day on the edge of the Grand Canyon would be preferable to a lot of the church services that I have attended, but to the men of Camp O’Donnell that knew that the church service was forbidden, yet were ready to die to have one, sitting on the ground and listening to Father Talbot rattle away must have been sheer bliss.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.