The Gift of Gathering
Call to Worship:
New City Catechism
Q. 49 Where is Christ now?
A. Christ rose bodily from the grave on the third day after his death and is seated at the right hand of the
Father, ruling his kingdom and interceding for us, until he returns to judge and renew the whole world.
[Ephesians 1:20-21, Hebrews 10:11-13, Romans 8:34]
Our Good and Gracious Father, you are worthy of our praise. We thank you this morning for all that you have
provided for us: beds to sleep in, a roof over our heads, food to eat. Help us to grow in gratitude for these
things and especially for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ. In love you sent him and in love he came to
proclaim the truth and to die for our sins. We thank and praise you this morning that he did not stay in the
grave, but that you raised him up to life. We thank you that he sits at your right hand and intercedes on our
behalf. We pray for our church during this time. We ask that you would watch over us and protect us from
the evil one. Keep our hearts set on the hope that you have given to us in Jesus Christ. By your Spirit bring
comfort to those who are lonely or discouraged. We pray as well for the safety of those among us who are
physically more vulnerable to this virus. Lord, we confess the weakness of our faith. We confess that we are
prone to wonder, prone to be anxious for what tomorrow holds. Only you know and our lives are in your
hand. Please restore to us the joy and blessing of gathering together again in the name of your Son. So we
plead, “how long oh Lord,” and at the same time we resolve to trust in your steadfast love, for you have dealt
bountifully with us. All this we pray in the name of Christ and for his sake. Amen.
The Gift of Gathering
We find ourselves in unprecedented times and each week (and sometimes each day), the situation seems to get worse. And what started as a health crisis has quickly evolved into an economic crisis. Currently our nation is in a debate over which is the most concerning or the more significant. Now there are many reasons why each of these ought to concern God’s people as well, but our concerns go beyond them because we know that the sum of man (and a nation) is not merely economic stability and physical health. Not to say that those aren’t of great importance, but one can have both and still lose his soul. And the same holds true for a nation. And furthermore, when the dust settles on this disaster we may just make it through and still by God’s grace have food on our tables. The cost of these things is yet to come. Only the Lord knows. There is however one consequence of it all that we are bearing today and it appears we will bear for some time. One element that God’s people ought to see as a crisis in and of itself. And that is the crisis of being cut off from the house of the Lord.
Now we know that the church is comprised of people not bricks and mortar. The physical building is not the church. Some Christians however, have confused that fact with the equally important fact that a church is an assembly of Christians defined as such because they regularly assemble together. And that gathering generally happens in a building that provides shelter from the elements, order, amplification, lighting, and so forth. The building is not necessary for our gatherings, but it is helpful. But what is necessary and elementary to being a church is gathering together for worship.
From the Old Testament all the way through the New God has called his people to gather for purpose of worshiping Him together. In the Old Testament, the building was essential. It was the tabernacle first and then the temple and was sometimes called, “the house of the Lord.” So the Psalmist says in Psalm 122 “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” Back then God’s people would go to the temple to worship the Lord because that was where God’s presence resided. And it was a joyful thing to God’s people to go to the house of the Lord. In Psalm 42 when the Psalmist is overcome with sorrow and grief he says, “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” Here again is an example of how God’s people saw corporate worship in the house of the Lord as a blessing and a joy.
Now the most significant change since that time is the location change. Because of what Christ has done, God’s presence no longer resides in a single building in Jerusalem, but rather His presence resides in His people. This is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 2 when he says that upon Christ we are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Now we are the temple of the living God (2 Cor. 6:16). And so, when we gather in the name of the Lord Jesus for worship, wherever we gather, we can be assured that God’s presence is with us.
And yet, what remains the same as it has always been is the blessing of worshiping God together as His people under his blessings and in His presence. And there are certain things we do in that setting (gathered for worship) that proclaim and even make manifest his blessings and presence. One is the preaching of God’s Word. Through the preaching of God’s Word, God’s truth and blessings are proclaimed to God’s people. And as the Word is read God speaks to His people. Another thing we do that assures us of his blessings and presence is communion. When we gather around the table of our Lord the elements of the bread and wine remind us that our Lord endured the curse of our sin that we would receive the blessings of his perfect obedience. As we take and eat the bread we are reminded that the body of Christ was broken that we might be knit together in him. As we take and drink the cup we are reminded that by his blood we have been ransomed from sin and death. And just as preaching is a means of God’s grace, assuring us of His presence and feeding our souls, so too we are nourished and assured of His presence with us when we partake in that sacred meal together.
At this point you may be asking, what does all this have to do with our current situation? My point in all this is to highlight what we are missing. And the truth is, a lot more could be said about the grace of gathering with God’s people. The blessing of fellowship. The joy of singing God’s praises with fellow believers that you know and love. Seeing and hearing them sing to their God for His great and wonderous deeds that are so great and wonderous they must be sung about. All that and more.
The point is that gathering with God’s people to worship the living God is a gift of grace that God has given to us. By it He grows us. Through it He sustains us. In it He assures us and convicts us. And with it He reminds us that we are not alone, but have been brought into His family which is made up of flesh and blood people like ourselves, redeemed by His grace.
Each week I have been reflecting on what God might be doing in all this. And this week I want to propose that perhaps He means to use this current crisis to cause our hearts to long for something we may have come to take for granted: the gift of gathering and the sanctifying grace of God that comes to us through it.
I wonder how it has affected you these past few weeks. Has it felt a bit like going to bed without supper? Maybe like there’s a significant piece missing in your life? Has the absence of our gathering caused you to long for it even more? I pray that this the case for each and every one of us.
Now one more thought before I wrap this up. I am inclined to think that our inability to gather as a church has ultimately come to us by the providential hand of God. Though secondary causes, like the orders of presidents and governors, certainly play a role, ultimately God presides over it all. And therefore, we ought to do more than grow in our appreciation for the gift of gathering. We ought to petition the Giver to restore it to us once again. And perhaps through all of this, God is calling his people to repentance. If we had been taking our times of gathering for worship for granted. If we had not prioritized gathering with God’s people on Sunday when we could. If we had gotten into the habit of being there in body, but being absent in spirit. If worship on Sunday mornings had begun to feel more like chore than a privilege…then repentance is in order. And after repentance the petition, “How long, Oh Lord? Renew our hearts to sing your praise. And restore to us the joy and blessing of gathering with your people to worship you. And until then we will trust in your steadfast love.”
May the God of peace be with you all, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.