What hopeful words we read from Isaiah: “I will gather you.” Those who are already together do not need to be gathered any more than those who are healthy need a physician. Only those who are scattered and dispersed long for gathering. Only those who are sick need medical care. That sounds like us!
The public health pandemic has caused us to stay apart and not gather for our safety, and the safety of others. That’s hard on restaurants, gyms, concert and sports venues, and congregations because, quite frankly, we’re social creatures who need human contact. It’s fun to be together. In fact, “to congregate” is to gather. The church is a gathering, a fellowship, a people coming together in Christ’s name and service.
Looking back to the promise Isaiah offered from God to the Babylonian Exiles some 600 years before the coming of Christ, we learn that God’s people have been scattered before. The ancient Jews were displaced from the land and taken as prisoners of war hundreds of miles to the east by the Babylonian invaders. For decades they remained scattered, wondering if they would forever live in exile. “By the Waters of Babylon” one psalm puts it, “we lay down and wept when we remembered Zion (Jerusalem).” It’s hard to be away from home.
To the scattered, defeated and fearful exiles, God spoke a word of reassurance and hope. The invitation they heard is one available to us by faith today: to live without fear, no matter where we find ourselves. To claim and know God’s loving, peace-giving presence with every breath and in every moment. To trust that God will gather and restore us… and give us a future that is good.
There’s an old saying that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Has that been true for you in this time of separation and longing? Are you like me, greatly anticipating gathering again from the east and west, from the north and south, to sit at a table with one another? It’s what congregations love to do and are called to do: congregate! And according to Isaiah, we will! Because God is in the gathering business.