A question I’ve heard a lot over the years, usually from people who are a bit over church, is: “what is church actually for?” This question has become even more relevant in an age when we can digitally access the best speakers and music in the world, whenever we want. So, why do we need the gathered social bit, which takes up a chunk of our precious Sunday? Well, the response to that question takes some answering. But, an important part of that answer comes from the first “sign” that Jesus does at a wedding in Galilee, which just so happens to coincide with Father’s Day.

For John, Jesus’ signs reveal the mystery of who God is and who we are as His image-bearers. Throughout the Old Testament, God speaks about Himself in the imagery of a passionate and faithful groom who is constantly pursuing his beloved bride, Israel, even when they turn their back on Him. It’s amazingly intimate imagery, which the New Testament writers then connect to the church. Now Jesus is the ultimate bridegroom, and the church is his bride for whom he has given his life. This imagery is mind-blowing when we allow it to permeate our imagination. So, it’s somewhat relevant that Jesus’ first sign is at a wedding party that is losing its way.

Weddings in those days were full-scale social affairs, as much for the benefit of the whole community as they were for the married couple. The ensuing wedding feast often lasted for a whole week, which involved the village not just celebrating the wedding, but also their common life together. And this is where we get back to the reason for the church, or at least one of them. The Apostle Paul describes the churches he pastored as spiritual “families”. They were groups that were called together, through their common faith in Jesus, from every walk of life and social standing. And Paul’s description of the church as a new family is meant to go beyond just imagery. The early church was a radical new society, who were called to be brothers and sisters to each other. This involved becoming a community of mutual encouragement, where the mature in their faith would pass on wisdom and support to those who were younger or greener, where those of economic means would support the needs of the less equipped, where masters and slaves stood shoulder to shoulder as brothers of equal standing. This was nothing short of a miraculous community, only made possible by the life of the Spirit.

So, the question for us is not so much what is church for, but are our ambitions for church high enough? This is not about increasing what we expect from other people (as comes so naturally to us), but raising our expectations of what we have to offer to this spiritual family. What G K Chesterton famously said about the Gospel is also true of the church: it has not been tried and found wanting, but found challenging and left untried. My experience of fatherhood is that it tests me to my limits at times, but nothing could be more worth the challenge. As the Bride of Christ, perhaps the spiritual family of the church also meets that threshold.

Blessings, Rev Jonny Grant