Meditation In A Time Of Social Isolation: The Gathering Place

Where two or three are gathered together in my name…

This coming Sunday we gather! After all these months – who could have imagined it would be so long? – we are going back to the altar of our Lord, going back to that lovely old building in which so many voices and hearts have been lifted over the years in praise, coming back together to see each other again. I can hardly wait to see you.

It will be different. We must all wear our masks, for the sake of the vulnerable among us. We can’t hug each other; we won’t all sing the hymns together; the children won’t have Sunday School. But we can see each other’s faces; we can chat together outside after the service (so much to catch up on!). We can go to the altar and receive in our hands the bread, Christ’s body given for us in such great love.

And if we cannot sing with our lips we can sing in our hearts; we can go from the church on Sunday filled with the joy of the music that has surrounded us and sing God’s praise through the week in our lives. If we cannot hug each other we can hold each other in our hearts as we pray. We can hold each other up to Jesus. It is powerful, this prayer of the gathered church.

If two of you agree together on earth about anything that you ask, it will be granted to them from my Father who is in heaven.

(Matt 18:19)

“Agree together,” Jesus says: συμφωνήσωσιν (symphōnēsōsin). It matters that we pray together. The gathering matters. True, we are the church even when we cannot meet “in the church.” But the gathering, the going to church, does matter. We know it matters: look how much you have missed each other! How much we have missed the dear old church and the gathering at the altar in Christ’s name.

Why does it matter? Because we are human, flesh and blood, and we long to be with each other wholly, not just in pixels on a screen. We long to be with each other in the flesh, as Jesus is with us in the flesh. As God in Christ Jesus chose to be with us in the flesh, Jesus walking among us, Jesus touching us and healing us, Jesus Christ crucified.

To be with each other wholly, as Jesus was wholly with us. To be for each other wholly, as Jesus gave himself wholly for us.

To be together in the flesh is true. To be gathered around the altar, where Jesus gives himself for us, into our hands: that is love. That is grace. That is prayer.

Communion is a thing of the body as well as of the soul. Jesus gathers us to be with and for each other as he has chosen to be with and for us. When you are gathered in my name, he says, there I am in the midst of you – when we are gathered, in his church, at his altar. He is there because that is who he is. He is the One who is with us wholly, to gather us wholly to himself.

Our gathering is the sign of his love. It is the place he works his grace. He has done it; he has gathered us, drawn us out of our ordinary and, truth be told, not always Godward lives to be with him, wholly with him, for an hour or two of a Sunday. We are gathered out of our lives into God’s life, to be the Jesus people, to be the people in the midst of whom Jesus lives.

Our gathering is not just for us. It is for all those who aren’t there, too. It is for all those who want to be there and cannot be there, because they are sick or at risk or in prison or without wheels or too far away. They are there with us, when we gather; we carry them in our hearts. They are part of that prayer we pray, when two or three of us are gathered together.

Our gathering is also for the world – for the world that does not know Jesus and thinks it does not care. We are gathered together out of the world and into Jesus’ presence on a Sunday morning, so that we can go into the world and live there day by day as witnesses, singing his resurrection, praising his grace.

To go to church on a Sunday makes us who we are: Jesus’ people, proleptic kingdom, the people gathered wholly unto him.

See you on Sunday!

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton is Priest-in-Charge of St. Matthew's Riverdale, and Professor of New Testament and New Testament Greek (part-time) at Wycliffe College. She has served also as Chaplain at Havergal College and Associate Priest at Grace Church on-the-Hill and St. John the Baptist, Norway (Toronto). She enjoys singing around the piano with her kids, her husband's Indian food, all things Italian -- and above all her two little grandchildren. Catherine and David live in Greektown. She blogs occasionally on feasts and fasts at feastfastferia.wordpress.com.