Church – the word
Of course being the Church, one can be very self conscious writing about it, and there are a number of aspects to cover.
Church is an English word derived from the greek word kyrios meaning 'Lord'. The scottish equivalent is kirk from the same origin. The latin word Ecclesia also comes into English in various forms and means 'called out'.
The New Testament sense of the use of the word is to refer to baptised people. Paul write letters to the Church in various places, and he was not writing to a building as that did not come till after the conversion of Constantine. Using the word Church to refer to a building is simply a short-cut for saying 'the building in which the Church meets' or perhaps 'The Lord's House', though we normally to use it for buildings that have been set aside for the primary purpose of the worship of God in Christ Jesus.
Here is the Church
When growing up many of us learned the ditty:
Here is the Church and here is the steeple.
Open the door and here's all the people.
You would clasp you hands with fingers interlocked and index fingers making the steeple. and then invert them to shall all the people. The point of the rhyme was that the people are the Church.
One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic
In the Nicene Creed we affirms our belief in the Church. The four things we say about the Church are called 'the (four) Notes of the Church'
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Our belief in the unity of the Church is important and a struggle. See the article on Oecumenical Issues. We are better at this in theory than in practice, hoever we continue to affirm a belief in our fundamental unity as believers and followers of Christ.
The holiness of the Church is about it being God's Church, set apart for God. The the article on Holy - Holiness.
The Church is Catholic in the sense of inclusive of all the faithful in all ages and in all places, stretching back to the Apostles. See the article about Catholic.
The notion of the Church being Apostolic is that the Church has a mission and a purpose. The greek word Apostolos means 'I send', as Christ sent the apostle out to proclaim the good news, this task is committed to, and continued by, the Church.
O good Jesus, hear me
Within your wounds hide me
Let me never be separated from you
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to you
That I may praise you with your saints
Forever and ever Amen
The Church is the Body of Christ
In the liturgy of the Eucharist we stand and declare:
We are the Body of Christ
His Spirit is with us
The Peace of the Lord be always with you
and also with you.
This claim is astounding when you think about it, however this is what we are called to be. It is through us the world will hear the message of the Gospel of Salvation. Of course one thing this is not is some sort of radical claim of perfection, for clearly the Church is not perfect - indeed it it was perfect their would not be much room for people. The people of the Church are Christ's people, and at out best we are Christ to the world.
We are All Saints
We are also all saints. This does not mean that any of us are perfect, have a look at the article on Saints. As the people of God, the baptised share in the mission of Jesus. It is quite common practice at All Saints Belmont, and many other churches that the candidate for baptism is presented with a lighted candle, lit from the Paschal Candle (The great Easter candle) with the words:
Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.
Some have reflected that we are called to be saints, like the saints depicted in Stained Glass Windows that allow the light to come through in a gentle and beautiful way, - or perhaps as a wag once put it, 'only the cracks let the light through!'
The Ordered Community of Faith
The Church, as needs must has an institutional reality. Jesus gathered the 12 Disciples and sent them. The Apostles appointed deacons to assist them, and ultimately others to lead the community of faith as it expanded through Galilee and Israel and into Europe. This sense of order that is part of the Church has also been the cause of many stresses along the way, and much of the great councils time was spent on matters of order.
Gathering and Scattering
In the shape of the liturgy is quite clear that there is an ebb and flow, that we gather to be empowered and emboldened to go out and make a difference in our world, only to the washed back to gather to be empowered and emboldened to go out and make a difference in our world ...
No doubt some have been and are called to live lives in retreat, to empower the Church as a whole, however the Church as a whole (and indeed most of its members) is called to live it's life in the world. The world is not a bad place, having been created by God, however it is a place that is in great need of love and light and people who will make a positive difference for good.
Many Roles with One Body - The Church
There are many roles within the Church, many avenues of ministry, some of the roles are sacramentally formalised in the ordering of the Church (Bishops, Priests and Deacons), and some roles and formalised in other ways, such as Parish Council Members, Liturgical Assistants, RE Teachers, and many other roles. There are a wealth of roles and ministries that are in a sense never formalised at all, like the care of the neighbour, and meeting the needs of those in trouble, the kind word, the helping hand, and whatever it may take. Anyone can do many of these things and never come to worship, yet we believe that motivated and empowered by the Spirit of Christ we do these things in the light and love of the one who calls us to to be.
Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.
Aidan of Lindisfarne
The Tabernacle of the New Covenant
During the Exodus the Tabernacle was set up, as a tent just outside the camp, where the ark of the covenant was kept and God was with his people. The door of the tent was protected. When they settled in Israel the the ark was kept at a couple of places until the temple was built in Jerusalem and the ark moved there.
In the Incarnation we the love of God is expressed in an absolute unity with humanity. John 1:14 tells us "The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory". The translation of lived among us could also be pitched a tent in the midst of us or even tabernacled among us. An encounter with Jesus was an encounter with God.
As the body of Christ, the Church is the tabernacle of the new covenant. God does not live in a tent, or a building, or a temple, God lives in his people.
To make sense of that we need to be faithful to Jesus, the the account of his love in the scriptures, the celebration of the sacraments which point to and declare that love, and in living Christlike lives, not just when we meet, but also when we are scattered in the world.