We now enter the third Sunday where our church is unable to gather together.
And this week it has finally hit me.
I’m grieving. I’m sad.
Perhaps I’m a little angry, but mainly I’m sad.
I’ve been involved in church life all my life. Being born into a pastors family means church is part of my life and lifestyle of my weekly rhythms–as it is for many Christians around the world. And it is in this time of uncertainty and alleviated stress where we seek the rhythms of familiarity. There is something about our nature that seeks rhythm and regular structures in our lives.
And so over the last few days I’ve been aware enough to notice that my emotions have changed as I’ve gone about my responsibilities this week. Knowing we are not gathering as the local expression of God’s people here at Rowville changes the nature of how I think about my weekend. While I may well be on the premises during our livestream, while I may know many from our community maybe watching even, I know it is different and there is something sad about this.
In our secularised, comfortable Western world grief and sadness are not seen as positive emotions. In modern Christianity we are more inclined to want to speak encouragement, we want to push people to see the joy, and take up the opportunity of the season. And of course, we know that God is in control in all of this, there is hope; the peace of our souls does not rest upon the prevailing winds of the world.
Instead, we worship a God, who through Christ Jesus, laid his solid foundation of hope and joy upon our hearts–knowing we are still held in him with enduring joy.
Yet, I’m still feeling sad. I’m still experiencing the grief of not being able to gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
For two years I lived in a small village in the mountains of Lebanon. I was apart from my home church back here in Melbourne, but I gathered each week with a local community of believers and ex-pats that I was working with.
Despite being away from my home church, what I knew and what I experienced was still a closeness with those I gathered with each week. Even though I didn’t know many of them very well, particularly in the initial months, I was encouraged and reminded of our unity as part of the family of God.
This time it feels incredibly different.
It isn’t simply being away from the usual sheep pen I reside in, this time it feels like we’re all out of our usual sheep pens and left out in the pasture. This isn’t to say God is not with us. Nor is it to say we aren’t all alone–modern technology accounts for something, but not everything.
The feeling of isolation, loneliness, and sadness comes from not being able to gather together with our church family. Rather than try to find some sort of faux-joy in amongst all the strangeness, perhaps it is appropriate to lament…?
After all, we enter Passion Week tomorrow, the week that symbolises the final week of Jesus’ life, culminating in his horrific death and glorious resurrection.
And perhaps this is something we can take away from this season? As we recognise the aloneness of this season this year it may help us enter more into the aloneness of Christ during this time. Though Jesus was surrounded by his disciples, and though he continued his ministry in this final week, we read of the unique isolation he felt as he headed toward the cross. Luke 22:42-44 helps reveal this to us:
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.
And so, while we may feel alone, sad, and grieved, unable to meet in the same physical location this week perhaps this provides us with an opportunity to see Jesus more clearly and walk his way more steadily?