When The Church Gathers Again

At my church, we are finally moving forward to begin in-person, indoor worship, and gatherings after nearly seventeen months of being online-only.  

It's been a long process, and there are still many things that need doing before we're ready, but it's close at last.  

So naturally, I've been thinking a lot lately about what church will look like in the weeks and months ahead.  In short, the church won't look the same as it did prior to COVID, that much is clear, but beyond that, I'm not at all certain. 

Quite a few of my church members have told me how excited they are that we'll be back in person.  They've informed me that all of their friends say they will be there when we open the doors.  

I'm excited, too.  I'm probably a little more cautiously optimistic, though.  I've learned to calibrate my expectations over this past year.  But still, the thought of being able to preach with actual people in the room is one that brings me joy.

People used to come up to me on Sunday mornings after worship and say, "I just need this to get through the week."  I understood what they meant, but it always bothered me to hear them say it.  

I often asked myself, "What are we doing here---that we have set this up as a 'fix' you need on Sundays in order to 'get through' the week?"  I would wonder what would happen if something changed.  

Then the Church left the building last March, and everything changed. Those of us who are a part of a local congregation had to come face to face with the fact that we don't just "go to church," we actually are the Church.  

I hope that we have learned something over these past seventeen months.  I hope that as our communities slowly re-open, and we begin gathering together more regularly, that we'll carry the notion of what it means to be the Church outside of the context of our buildings forward, too. 

I've been reading Thich Nhat Hahn's awesome little book Going Home: Jesus and Buddha As Brothers, and this quote by Hahn absolutely blew me away: 

Is it sufficient to go to church every Sunday?  No. People seem to be very kind while in church, but as soon as they get out, it seems that all their kindness is gone. A few hours in a church cannot counterbalance the time they spend out of the church if confusion, anger, and destruction will take over. 

So here is this renowned and respected Buddhist monk and teacher doing something that not a lot of Christian pastors are willing to do.  He is exhorting Christians to not just go to church, but to be the Church.  

This is the lesson that I hope we have learned after a long and challenging season.  And for my own congregation I hope that as we return to gathering together in person, we never lose sight of the fact that we are more than our gatherings... 

We are the living embodiment of the Risen Christ in the world.  We are the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities.  We are the Church, and when we are doing what the Church does best, we are showing Christ's love and light no matter where we are.  

May this be true for all of us, in all spaces and places.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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