There are things you grow up learning that you are sure to be true. As an American, you learn that this is the land of ‘milk and honey’, of ‘supersize me’ and ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’. However, much of these identifiers of American life which have always seemed true, seem to be proven false in the last week of the Covid-19 crisis. Stores are out of milk. Restaurants have closed down. There is little to be supersized and if you have a supersize pack of toilet paper, you might as well have won the lottery. There is much we cannot do even if we dream it. The ‘land of plenty’ now seems to be the ‘land of scarcity’.
We all feel that scarcity.
In a week’s time, so much has been taken away: routine, plans, human contact, social nearness, and a sense of normalcy. Sunday morning gatherings have also been taken away. With that comes an end of hearing my brothers and sisters sing in praise together to Jesus, an end to praying together in person, and end to responding to the preached word and partaking of communion, an end to many, many Sunday side hugs. I miss all of it.
I love the embodied gathering of the people of God. I love Sunday church services more than the average person. I go to both services by choice. When on vacation, I visit other churches and am inspired by what I learn. While in New York City at Redeemer Presbyterian, I learned a great way to introduce new members. While at a church in Nebraska, I learned how the church can host an art studio and outdoor garden for the benefit of its city. I realize my love for and fascination with church is outside of the norm. And while I may not be normal, my love of Sunday church gatherings is substantiated in the Bible.
Throughout the Old and New Testament, God affirms the need for His people to be gathered together around his Word. So, if God's desire is for us to gather, how can that desire be denied during this lockdown? It feels wrong because I thought it was wrong not to gather.
Yet, I have not had to look hard to see that longing in the Christian faith is not new, even if it is new to me. Throughout the New Testament, Paul longs to gather with the church. Paul writes to the church in Rome: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you - that is that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:9-12).
Longing fueled Paul's letter writing. God allowed Paul to long to be with the church of Rome so that he would write a powerful letter that would strengthen the hundred or so believers in Rome at the time and to strengthen millions of subsequent believers for Millenia to come.
God works powerfully in longing. Paul’s longing for the churches in Rome, Colosse, Thessalonica, Phillipi, Ephesus, Corinth and Galatia resulted in enduring and eternal letters that would empower millions of Christians to know and follow Jesus, to access the power of the Spirit, to be fortified against opposition and to build his Church according to his design.
If Paul’s longing was used mightily by God, could he do something with my longing?
I ask that question as I sit on Sunday morning in my living room. I’m wearing leisurewear, streaming the sermon online and singing along to YouTube sets. My circumstances are sad, but it points me to the hope in his Word, which gives me faith and assurance that God will indeed use my longing.
In my longing, I feel God calling me to use this time to pray and dream. I have much more time to do that as I had before. I don’t want to miss the opportunity. My prayer and dream is for when the church can gather together again. I long to see, in person, the faces of my brothers and sisters. I dream of singing worship songs together with them, even if a few are off-key! I look forward to embracing many with tighter side hugs. I am dreaming that I will again be greeted at the door by our eldest member, who at 94, gives the best hugs in the church. There is much to look forward to as I long.
Already my one-week of longing for the gathered church has given me a greater longing for that Day, when Jesus will gather His Church to Himself. For on that Day, I will at last see Him face-to-face and be gathered into His eternal embrace. I will embrace the saints of all who have gone before. On that Day, all my longings will be no more and all my dreams will be superseded. For all eternity, I will enjoy the gathering of the saints without ceasing as we forever worship Jesus face-to-face. What a Day that will be.
Longing for that Day has fueled my prayers on this day.
May longing fuel you too.