“A Psalm of Ascents; of David.
I rejoiced when ones said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of Yahweh!’”
This psalm begins with a wonderful statement that is alien to the experience of many American Christians: “I rejoiced” when it came time to go to the house of the Lord. Now, your temptation might be to argue with me and say that every Christian is now a temple of the Holy Spirit, so there is no longer any “going up” to the temple in Jerusalem (or elsewhere) and thus one cannot make a parallel between the Temple and the Church building. All of that may be true on a surface level, but let’s hear the heart of the psalmist. Why is he glad to go to God’s house? Not only is it the place where he can enter into God’s presence, but it is also the place where he can gather with other believers in fellowship and in common worship and it is a place where he can go and sit under the instruction of the priests of God’s Word. Though there are some theological nuances that we must be careful with, there really are a number of similarities in sentiment as to why the psalmist is rejoicing—this gathering is something that he has been looking forward to for a long time. Hmmm…can we say the same thing about our gatherings on Sunday morning with the other believers? Do we look forward to Sunday all week long, or is Sunday worship just something we do?
This is an important question to ask in a culture where the mindset that many take is that they can worship on the golf course just as well as they can worship in the pew. It is also an important question to ask in a culture where the institutional church is being rejected and being replaced by the “emergent” church—a group that rejects the institutional church altogether. So how do we answer this question? Is it a good thing for us to gather with other believers in the Christian age or must this psalm be relegated to the Jewish church?
To begin with, we must never forget that Christian fellowship was given to the church for her edification. The church is described as a “body with many parts” in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as a building made up of many stones in 1 Peter 2. This idea sets before us the initial reality that if we are going to be believers in Jesus Christ, we are going to have to do so in community and in relationship with other believers. In addition, this community and fellowship is not something that we are to dread, but instead is something that “makes our joy complete” (1 John 1:4). Indeed, the hymnist is correct when he refers to the church as a “happy throng.”
Yet the joy of the church does not come from fellowship with other Christians; one can find that at a variety of social gatherings. The joy comes from Jesus Christ. Not only is Christ in our midst, he is binding us together as one body of Christ to his own glory and honor and to our joy and satisfaction. Indeed, we ought rejoice when our brother or sister in the faith says, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” For that is an invitation not only for joyful fellowship, but for joyful fellowship before Jesus Christ’s throne of grace as one body—united in faith before a living God. Let us rejoice and be glad!