There has been much discussion this week about churches that had started offering in-person worship without taking the necessary precautions and dreadful consequences followed as a few individuals spread the virus to many unsuspecting participants. That has caused people to question why worshiping together in one place is necessary at all. The issues raised vary from the most speculative (“Isn’t God present everywhere? Why do I need to go to church?”) to the most practical (“How do we bless God’s name if we can’t even sing out loud?”).
A comprehensive defense would take way too long. It’s good to remember that throughout these months, worship has not stopped; it has been adapted to meet the current challenges. The gospel has continued to be proclaimed. Ministries of care and compassion have demonstrated the values of the Kingdom of God.
Something still feels like it’s missing when the Body of Christ is isolated and our voices distant. Reading the familiar words of Psalm 96 this week helped me to reflect on how much more than singing takes place when we gather together in worship. After the opening command:
“Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name,”
there are several other imperatives:
“Tell of God’s salvation. Declare his glory. Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Bring an offering. Come into his courts. Worship the LORD in holy splendor.”
Corporate worship is a witness to the nations. It also affirms our participation in the life and sacrifice of our risen Lord in the here and now. As “guardians of the mysteries” our gatherings around the table and the baptismal font become a sharing in the real presence of Christ in communion with our Savior and in love for one another. We are gathered, strengthened, and then sent out to be light and bread and hope to others.
There is a strong pull of the Spirit and a hunger that many of us feel these days, which was best expressed by the author of Psalm 42:
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?”
The psalmist’s nostalgia is unmistakable and perhaps you share in some of those feelings:
“I remember…how I went with the throng and led them in procession
to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted with me?
HOPE IN GOD! For I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
When the time is right, a remnant shall return and rejoice in retelling the sacred stories, remembering God’s work on the world’s behalf, and reestablishing a communion with the holy things that define a community and keeps alive the vision of the new heaven and the new earth that is surely coming.