“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." – Matthew 18:20
In May 2017, I was among 120,000 worshippers gathered outside Wittenberg, Germany. That year was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and Christians from all over the world descended upon that small town. That Sunday worship service was a high point of the year’s festivities. The crowds sang hymns, prayed prayers, heard the Word of God proclaimed, and even shared in communion. All those people gathered in the name of Jesus Christ was an amazing sight. I have never experienced anything like it before or since.
These days in Germany, groups of more than two are banned because of the coronavirus. In our own community, it has been two months since we gathered in numbers greater than single digits as a congregation. Almost a quarter of a million people have died from COVID-19. As a result, we have all hunkered down in our homes avoiding contact with others.
Throughout the history of the church, there have been many times where Christians have been unable to gather. Whether it is a pandemic, active persecution, or simple circumstances, individuals have understood the pain that accompanies the longing for other believers. I think of the elderly woman in a nursing facility physically unable to go to worship. I think of the young man imprisoned for his faith in a foreign land. I think of a recent convert who has only a few Christian friends. Each one hungers for fellowship of other believers.
Whether or not this pandemic has a lasting impact on our society remains to be seen. However, it has certainly made me rethink church. Jesus promises that he will be present in gatherings of twos and threes. I have felt the Holy Spirit moving in a crowd of thousands. However, more often I have felt his presence in the late-night phone conversation with a brother in Christ.
If we are called to make disciples and discipleship is living each day for Christ, then necessarily most of the church’s work will happen in groups of two or three because that’s where we live. Making a meal for someone, writing a note, or helping another in need are essential ways we connect as Christians. The large ministries of the church multiply our efforts and are important to live out our mission. Nonetheless, Christian friendship is the mustard seed that will grow and change the world.
I don’t know when we will be able to gather again as one body. I certainly hope it is sooner rather than later. In the meantime, let’s continue to be the church in twos and threes if necessary. And let us take comfort that Christ will be with us. The love that we share will get us through this. God bless you.
Grace & Peace,