May 27, 2020 by Tim O’Connor
“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!'” (Psa 122:1)
Do you yearn to re-join your brothers and sisters in communal worship of our Lord? The writer of Psalm 122 did, and he rejoiced when the opportunity came. For the people of Israel, worship had a physical focal point, the temple in Jerusalem. It was where its several “tribes go up…to praise the name of the LORD.” But that was a temporary symbol of the fullness to come. Jesus told the woman at the well of the fast-approaching hour “when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). As Hebrews 12:22-24 later explained, Christians everywhere “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” There is no longer a physical focal point or even geographical boundary to the proper worship of God. God’s people cover much of the planet, and it is not possible for us to physically join together even in one very large city!
Christ has dispersed us, in order that we might “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). But he does not send us out alone, as solitary witnesses. We are called to live together in small ecclesia, small-scale replica of the dispersed body of Christ, and our life together still is anchored (though not exhausted!) by our communal worship. And so the pandemic has been a confusing disruption of – in some ways an exile from – our communal Christian form of life. Hopefully, we will learn lessons from it, but we dare not get used to it (Heb 10:25). Like the psalmist, we should rejoice at the prospect of re-united worship. But what does our life together require now?
The psalmist exclaims, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!…For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say ‘Peace be within you!'” Sadly, the nation of Israel failed at this, leading Jesus to weep over the city, and did not know “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). Over two millennia, the body of Christ as a whole or in its local ecclesia have often fallen into division. The present pandemic has not been equally endured, and so has the potential to divide us at ECC. Physical suffering has been mostly experienced by the elderly or infirm; psychological suffering by the extroverted and those who live alone; economic suffering by those whose jobs can’t be performed remotely, and who generally have less income and savings than those who can continue to work. We also differ, it turns out, quite a bit in our attitudes toward risk and physical safety, and this threatens to divide us over the very act of publicly worshipping together. Let us heed the psalmist’s call to pray for peace among us.
The psalm ends with “For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.” The writer of Hebrews, having explained that worshippers everywhere are mystically united in a heavenly Jerusalem, goes on in Ch.13 to explain some of what seeking one another’s good (what he terms ‘brotherly love’) involves: practicing hospitality to strangers and remembering those of the faithful who are in prison or mistreated, “since you also are in the body.” And finally, to remember our leaders by imitating their faith and obeying and submitting to them. Let’s especially remember this last admonition. We are not a mere collection of individuals. We’re a body. Bodies are not shapeless blobs; they have ordered structure. Our pastors and elders have been keenly considering the needs of those entrusted to their care in a time of real challenge, knowing that they will have to give an account. (Heb 13:17). As they reflect and pray together and then make difficult decisions about the best path forward for us, given all the particulars of our situation, let our response be to pray for them in turn and to offer words of kindness and encouragement. As a descendant of Irish and Bohemian firebrands, that little word ‘obey’ does not easily pass my lips. God loves me, but He is not impressed. He calls me (and you) to humbly honor the role He has appointed ECC’s leaders to, despite his not having promised to give them infallible insight. If we do so out of reverence for Jesus, the great shepherd of us all, we may be confident that “the God of peace…will equip [us] with everything good that [we] may do his will” (13:20-21).