In this, our final model on the nature of the Church, we visit the Fourth Gospel, that of St John the Evangelist. This Gospel, due to its doctrinal teachings, is considered the First Gospel (in honour) by the Orthodox Church. Herein we read:
Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand in His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [John 20:24-29]
Why did Thomas not see the Risen Lord when the others did? Because he was not part of the assembly — the Church! We must be part of the Church to experience the Risen Lord. It is in the Church that we not only see, but partake of the Lord’s Body. By partaking of the Body, we grow in the likeness of the Body. How do we see God? Our Lord Himself, in the Beatitudes, says “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Our hearts are purified by the Sacrament of Confession which culminates in the partaking of the Lord’s precious Body and Blood. We long to experience the Risen Lord in our lives. At times we, like Thomas, are perhaps cut off from seeing God in our lives by our hardness of heart. The remedy, as Thomas found out, is to be (re)united with the Body of believers through participation in the life of the Church. The Church is the Lord’s Body. For us to experience the Body, we must be part of it. For us to experience the Resurrection, we must be part of it! We are part of the Body and the Resurrection of Christ through Repentance (Confession), Baptism & Communion.
We find this definition in the Orthodox Study Bible:
CHURCH: The faithful are called out of the world to be the Church the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the New Israel, the ark of salvation, the assembly of the faithful. Through the Church, Christians are united to Christ and to each other. In this community, the believer receives the grace of God through the sacraments and hears the truth of the gospel. This mystical transformation of people into one body in Christ takes place in the Eucharist. Because Christ is the Head of the Church, the Church is a reflection of the Incarnation, with both human and divine qualities [(see 1 Corinthians 1016, 17; Galatians 616; Ephesians 412; 522-32) p.795].
Back when I was a kid, an old announcer used to end his radio program saying, “Don’t stay home from church talking about all the hypocrites who are there … there’s always room for one more.”
God willing, see you in church!