After three months of being unable to meet together in person, I wanted to be able say that we would be in our church building this Sunday, but I can’t. I’m sure you share my deep longing and desire to be together again in person, returning to what we had before. Sadly it is hard to know when a service will look like those we held in the past. The current Church of England guidance denies us the chance to sing, to use responses as we have, to sit together, use hymn, service books or Bibles, or to meet in the numbers we are online. Things would look different too as we would want to wear masks and speak from behind screens to make sure we were doing everything possible to reduce the risk to those most vulnerable. So now is the time to listen to God and pray, to pray for patience, wisdom and insight. As we pray and take stock I thought it would be helpful to reflect on why we meet and to give thanks for the things God has gifted us in the present, as well as lamenting what we miss.
Who and what do we meet for?
If you were asked what we meet together for I’m sure we’d have many different answers, but our unifying purpose is a person not a place. We meet because of Jesus, we meet together as one family, created by God through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We meet because Jesus invites us and tells us to, we meet to give Jesus honour and praise, but much more takes place than we may at first think.
Sit, submit and commit to Christ
Jesus prayed for the church (the original word being ekklesia, meaning a gathered people),“I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one.” (John 17:20-21). When we meet we practice and demonstrate the unity we have in Jesus. We also submit ourselves to Jesus, we commit ourselves to him and we sit under his authority and his word as we declare his Lordship in our lives. Our confession of sin, acts of forgiveness, singing his praises, prayers and celebration of communion and baptisms are not a goal in themselves but the various ways we show our unity with Jesus. We show that we are one, that we are new creations living together for Christ.
“The gathering is the place of formation, not merely information. The word is not only proclaimed and taught but enacted and obeyed together through shared prayers of repentance and faith in Jesus, times of confession and forgiveness.”Donna Jennings
Formed and filled to go
A healthy gathering of Jesus’ people is far from passive, instead it is an active stand against sin, the world and the devil and it is one of the means Jesus uses to form us into his likeness. We gather to be empowered, equipped and encouraged to worship Jesus with all of our lives. The focus of our faith is not directed towards an hour a week where we worship, instead we gather to fuel and grow for a week, a life of worship. We come to be formed, filled and scattered, as Christ’s hands and feet sent out to the world.
A new community
So we gather as one, a new community, shaped by the Trinity, the community of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We gather to express our unity, our ‘oneness’, which makes the idea of being split into little groups or multiple services a step backwards. The thoughts of leaving an accessible gathering behind (like Zoom) which has enabled the housebound to join us another step backwards, if we want to be one. God has actually made us more united than ever as our Zoom services gather people from both of our congregations, something I am really thankful for. It is also a joy to gather to talk and share fellowship after the service, getting to know new people or older acquaintances better. I for one am very grateful that rather than being kept from fellowship as I have to set up for another service I am able to stop and talk with you all.
Positive steps forward
It is wonderful to know that God has gathered us together, as one, more in lockdown than ever before, and to know that when we look back we’ll have so many things to thank God for. So let us stand united, in worship and prayer again this Sunday and let us pray and seek God for the way forward. Although it is true that some churches will be returning to their buildings this week others are not planning to return until September. So let me encourage you to pray and seek God’s leading as I am doing. And if people ask when we will be opening the building you can tell them that we are already meeting every Sunday on Zoom, but that when we do re-open we will make sure we communicate it as widely as possible. So as we continue to love God, love others and make disciples let us remember what is certain…
…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38,39