It’s been over five months since the pandemic changed everything about worship, ministries, social gatherings, etc. My Sundays are only different because of a single service. Otherwise, I’m still at GRC and when it’s time, I get up to preach from the same pulpit, using the same Bible. This past Sunday, the last day of our family vacation, was only the fourth live-stream for me. Minutes after the service ended, I felt an acute sense of loss. I had thought of this before, but it was more powerful than ever. As soon as we turned off the feed, plans for lunch (at home) or whatever else the day brought, went into motion. And I realized something BIG was missing, that worship of the King was very much incomplete.
That sense has biblical roots! This isn’t the time for a survey of Scripture, but let me highlight two things from the New Testament. The wonder of Jesus’ arrival is captured by a name given to him: Emmanuel, literally from the Hebrew: “with-us-God.” As John puts it, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14). “Incarnation” describes the physical/fleshly presence of God among his creation. Jesus’ experience of the full scope of human living—without any sin (Hebrews 4:15)—was necessary for him to serve as the perfect substitute sacrifice for sinful humanity.
Also in the book of Hebrews, the author issues this challenge: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:24–25). These are the last of 3 statements to persecuted Christians:
- Draw near to God (v22);
- Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess (v23); and
- Don’t give up meeting together.
Obviously the third is greatly impacted by this global pandemic! But, even during “normal” times, isn’t it true that other priorities sometimes crowd out a weekly commitment to the gathering of God’s people? [No, Sunday worship is not the only way to satisfy this exhortation. Yes, Sunday worship should be at the top of the list of what it means to “meet together,” which is a translation of the Greek word epi-synagoge: a New Testament word, along with ekklesia (usually translated church) which translated Old Testament words for gathering/assembly].
What’s my point here? A few challenges:
- Cultivate a sense of discontent with live-streaming, and stimulate a longing for a return to what is far richer: the physical presence of the family of God. Be careful not to grow “comfortable” with worship from your living room, let alone your kitchen as you eat breakfast or prep for lunch.
- Consider the other “risks” you may take in these unique times: retail shopping, eating outside a restaurant, back to school, back to the office. Each of us has a different sense of fear/anxiety/carefulness. Is regathering for worship highly considered among your choice of risks to take?
- Speaking of risk, this is my non-professional opinion (but vetted by some professionals): I don’t believe that worshiping in person is a significant risk. That’s subjective, I know. I see the single case of a worshiper who later tested positive as one data point that our protocols are working! Some, if not many of us, will be exposed somewhere. The question is whether gathering for worship is a prime context for re-transmission, and my answer is: No one else got sick or has gotten sick from regathering for worship. The person kept a mask on, didn’t shake hands, stood at a distance, and sat in a family group which was distanced from other chair groups by design. It worked! And it continues to work, to make church-attendance as safe as many other activities that are carefully resuming.
- Last thought, and I’m not trying to stir up guilt. I understand the extra care because of your age, underlying health issues, care of elderly, or your profession. My aim is to poke a bit at the inevitable “comfort” that comes from getting up later, not getting dressed, etc., and to ask you whether you can relate to my sense on Sunday that something so important about worship is missing! And that there’s a reasonable, healthy way for that itch to get scratched.
If you have any questions about our regathering, don’t hesitate to reach out to Laura Tretner, our Director of Ministry Operations.
Hope to see you on a Sunday soon!
Peter Wang is the Senior Pastor.