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Come Back to Church

May 15, 2023

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath’s day walk from the city.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. . . They all joined together constantly in prayer .  .  .” (Acts 1: 12-14).  

We have a sofa pillow with the word “Gather” beautifully embroidered in gold on a beige background.  Over the years when I have written about this text relating to the gathering of the disciples in the upper room to pray, it never occurred to us that the word “gather” would become so important worldwide and that people across the globe would be prohibited from gathering.  But that was where we were three years ago.  We didn’t have a vaccine and were prohibited from gathering anywhere, including in churches, for many months.  

But a few days ago, on May 11, 2023, the federal government declared the formal end to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s time to come back to church.  There are many reasons to gather: There is strength in numbers. When we gather together as a family, whether at home or at church, we share each other’s concerns, joys, and sorrows.  We share stories about our day or week.  We laugh together.  We make music together or listen to music.  We brainstorm with each other.  We help each other.  We put our arms around each other in joy or sympathy.  We pray together before meals and during devotions.  

This week’s Scripture texts[1] show us how Jesus and his disciples set an example for us of the importance of gathering together for prayer.  The texts remind us to turn to God in times of joy to thank him for our blessings, and also in times of uncertainty, suffering, weakness, and challenge, as we would turn to a trusted friend, with whom we have a long-standing relationship. 

Jesus gathered his disciples together to break bread with them on that last Thursday before his arrest.  The group then accompanied him to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  The 17th chapter of John records Jesus’ prayer in the Garden.  Jesus began by acknowledging that “The hour has come.” (John 17: 1).  His last act before his arrest was to model to his disciples what to do when faced with life’s most difficult challenges—pray.  He knew that the best thing he could give his disciples at that moment was to gather them together and to pray for them.  

He also knew that the image of him in deep prayer would remain with them for the rest of their lives.  In verses 6-11 he prayed for his disciples who did not fully understand what was to come.  In his prayer Jesus says that God’s glory—his presence and character– was revealed through him, and will continue in his disciples: “And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11). 

It is important to join in prayer with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout Christendom.  Ken Frese, our temporary pastor in 2020, quoted the old saying, “the family that prays together, stays together,” in pointing out the saying is true of our spiritual families as well as our flesh and blood families.  Our prayers rise like a stream of incense, pleasing to God, when we join our voices in prayer.

When Jesus left them, the disciples felt truly alone and were uncertain about the future.  They all gathered and prayed constantly for guidance: “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath’s day walk from the city.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. . . They all joined together constantly in prayer . .  . “ (Acts 1: 12-14).  There is strength in gathering with your fellow sojourners in faith in your local church and in praying with them as the body of Christ.  

The yearning to gather together is strong, and while we found ways to maintain our community connections virtually during the lockdown months, it’s time to come back to church.

God lives in each of its members, and gathering together whether physically, electronically, or virtually, strengthens each of its members just as it strengthens the whole.  God listens to the prayers of all, but it is truly beautiful when many are gathered in his name, and the prayer of each heart is sent as one to the Father.  The disciples modeled what we should do when we are at crossroads in our lives and do not know which way to turn: follow the example of the disciples and the old hymn and “take it to the Lord in prayer.”  Gather with body of Christ, his church on earth, where others will put their arms around you and pray with you and for you, and where your prayers can join with the prayers of all. 

Peter gives us some practical advice: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . . and the God of all grace . . . will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5: 7-10).   As weak and defenseless animals are easy prey for lions, so we are low hanging fruit for Satan to pluck when we are weak, alone, and suffering.  Surround yourself with other prayerful souls, especially in times of need.

Take your joys and disappointments to God as an individual and as a member of the body of Christ.  God has promised to be there when two or three are gathered in his name—whether on the phone, on a video conference call, or in other socially distanced ways.  As we discussed last week, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the advocate, to live within each of us. The strength of the Holy Spirit living in each person gathered can fend off attacks by the minions of the evil one.  Call upon the Spirit to build your relationship with him, and to strengthen his body in your church.  He is there for you, as sure as the air you breathe.  And he can be trusted.

Go back to church if you are able, so that you can reap the benefits of worshipping and praying with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and of supporting each other in person.

Prayer: “Gracious God, I thank You that Your love for me never fails – it is fresh and new each day.  Let me experience beauty and joy today, and give me hope for tomorrow.  Help me share Your love with others . . . Watch over my loved ones, my neighbors, all workers, and the unemployed.  Bless every leader here and around the world  . . . and help our church to always be an outpost of hope.  I ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.” (Daily Prayer written by Pastor Ken Frese).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Seventh Sunday of Easter are Acts 1: 12-26; Psalm 68; 1 Peter 4: 12-19; 5: 6-11; John 17: 1-11.

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