Missing, Belonging, Longing - Walter Brown
During this coronavirus season, with all the limitations that characterize it, we repeatedly hear different versions of the old adage: “we never really appreciate what we have until we have lost it.” A recent pop song with a romantic flavor by Passenger expresses the idea:
“Well you Only need the light when it’s burning low. Only miss the sun when it starts to snow. Only know you love her when you let her go. Only know you've been high when you're feeling low. Only hate the road when you're missin' home. Only know you love her when you let her go. And you let her go.”
As we all know, one experience we have lost for now is gathering for fellowship and worship, and I have to admit, it is a privilege that I didn’t really appreciate until I lost it.
After worship services were canceled, along with pretty much every other public gathering, we participated in worship via the Internet. I am grateful for that opportunity, that avenue of connection with my church family, as I’m sure many of you are, but obviously it is not the same.
Although I have rarely missed participating in gathered worship over the years, I sometimes have been tempted to do so. In those times, I’d think, it’s no big deal, I’ll just sleep in today. I’ll be back next time/I can go anytime, etc. But, in the current crisis, when I was forced not to go, I was struck more than ever before by what I was missing—of course, being with people I love, experiencing the closeness of touch, a handshake, a hug, but also seeing people, meeting their glance, in short, enjoying an important aspect of what the New Testament calls koinonia, a sharing of life together. This sharing of life is like family, having a sense of camaraderie, in which is rooted much of our identity and from which we draw encouragement and strength for living. Certainly, this life of faith that we share is still a reality, even when we’re not together physically, and we often remind ourselves that the church is not a building or a place. But even though this is a truth we too easily forget, we can hardly think of “church” without also thinking of people who meet together on a regular basis, and not just to do stuff, but to be something, to experience something precious and holy.
In that first week, as I was mourning that loss, I also began to think of so many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who never get to experience, to the degree that we do, this privilege of face to face and person to person fellowship and shared worship, but rather live under constant threat because of their faith, facing persecution if they openly display their faith, and even danger of death if they meet together in the name of Christ.
What impact should this fact have on me, on us?
I’m not trying to guilt us or demean the sense of loss we feel because others have it worse. Our suffering is certainly real; we are being reminded of the freedoms we typically enjoy, now lost, and we rightly grieve that loss and admit that we have not been as grateful as we should have been.
Lord, we thank you for all those past experiences of worship that we assumed we could enjoy any time we wanted; we also thank you for the experiences of worship we now enjoy, limited though they are (Psalm 122:1).
The church is not just our local group alone, or even just our national group alone, but it is made up of believers everywhere, many who now suffer from danger from the virus on top of danger they face every day, for no other reason than their allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord. Our current experiences of worship can be occasions to remind us of our solidarity with all fellow believers everywhere (we can’t see each other, but we know others are there; we see them through our imagination).
Lord, we know that we are one part of a vast body of believers, the world over, and we affirm that when one member suffers, we all suffer and when one member celebrates, we all celebrate (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
This virus season can be a foundation for contemplation of a future when all will be as God intends. In common with all peoples of the world, we look forward to a time when we are free of the virus. But for many believers, that day will not bring deliverance from oppression, persecution, and threat of death. For them, that will only come in heaven.
Lord, we know that even if we are virus-free, we will not be fully free; we affirm that we are aliens in a foreign land, traveling light, on the way to a better country and a city not made with hands (Hebrews 11:8-16).
Walter Brown is a retired biblical studies professor, although still doing some online work. He lives with his wife of about 49 years, Joyce, on the Westbank. They have a son, Jonathan who lives in Slidell and a daughter Lindsay who lives in Gentilly.