This week, playoff hockey has been the talk of my town and those around it. The Nashville Predators, Tennessee’s representative professional hockey team, have made a historic and unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Last night, their run sadly came to an end and the Penguins took the Cup.
I won’t provide a lot of commentary on the actual game itself, mainly because, I would sound like a bumbling fool if you let me talk about it long enough. I haven’t followed hockey virtually at all. I know some players, I’ve been to a Preds game (one of the best sporting events I’ve ever been to by the way). I follow from an arm’s length, but by and large I’m not steeped in the NHL. I wish I followed it more, but I say this every year, and alas.
I live in Vols country. People are Titans fans, or Colts, or Broncos a la Manning. Anyone that follows baseball is likely a Braves fan. But hockey? For a majority of folks around here, it’s not worth the time of day.
At least, until the Predators make a run for the Cup.
My social media feeds have been filled with friends donning Preds gear. “Stories” are updating everyone that they have found a Preds watch party, or have gone to the stadium. Even more interestingly, it is the folks that are decidedly not sports fans that are jumping in on the fun.
What of this phenomenon? Why is it that a year ago, my Facebook friends could care less about the Predators–Canadiens trade that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville, and now they’re wearing his jersey? Why have I hurried home this week to turn hockey on?
I think underneath all of this is something we can learn about ourselves: we desire to belong, because we were made to belong. Humans were made to traverse this life with, and the more we seclude ourselves (introverts included), the more we long. Suicide is the ultimate violation of who we were made to be, existing beings within a world. There is a reason solitary confinement is punishment for those already imprisoned.
See? It’s bothering you that those two words are just standing there all on their own. Why couldn’t they just follow the last sentence?
On the flip side, humanity’s most celebrated and cherished moments are relationship-oriented. Weddings, births, reuiniting with old friends, random acts of kindness. You name it. Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in belonging to Him.
This is no accident. It’s not just a theological philosophy that belonging to a people is how we have been made to be. It’s a hard-wired, human reality that transcends Christian thought. I know this, because atheist churches exist.
Just down from the Predators’ Bridgestone Arena is a secular (read: anti-God) congregation called “Sunday Assembly Nashville.” Their vision? “To help everyone live life as fully as possible.” Their three pillars? Live Better. Help Often. Wonder More. I love and agree with those words, with a gospel, Christ-centered lens of course.
Here’s the point: We can’t even keep atheists out of churches. Even the God-less need a house of worship. Tennesseeans will gather for Preds games, and atheists will plan a Sunday morning service, because in our core we all feel the twinge to belong.
And here is where all arguments against consistent, covenant membership in the local church come to die. You can’t “podcast” church, because church is not an audio recording, no matter how good its gospel is! Man cannot live on Quiet Time alone. The eye cannot say to the hand that he is altogether unnecessary. The ekklesia (which describes a group of people) is central to our Christian function, because it is there where we live out what it means to be the sons and daughters of the family we have been adopted to (Rom 8:15). Perhaps most importantly, it is in the local church where we can biblically partake in the sacraments, expressions of our covenant community with one another. This should be reflected in how we think about church, how we function in church, and even, how our churches function. It should prioritize belonging, because that is what the church means to offer. If you view the local church as your ecclesiological buffet, you’ll eventually leave lunch hungry. The church was meant to be so much more. It’s a ragtag band of brothers and sisters, uniting under the banner of Christ alone, belonging to one another ’till Kingdom come.
Participating in the local church is like watching playoff hockey, but even better. Because in church, every Sunday, we get to lift the trophy, week after week. The championship has been decided. “It is finished!” We’re hoisting Jesus up and parading him off the floor. And now, living in the unity the gospel creates, we celebrate, we anticipate, we mourn, we rejoice, we worship…together.
If Preds fans can do it, so can we.
“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.”
–– Wendell Berry