The Church Still Gathers
Following the death of Jesus his followers were full of fear and anxiety. News of his resurrection didn’t go viral at first – it’s not like the people had Twitter or Facebook to stay atop the latest religious or political news. They were afraid and dejected, uncertain of what would come next. Even those who had seen the risen Lord were still uneasy about the future.
Our own lives of social distancing reflect some of their reality. We are enduring a high degree of uncertainty, fear, and worry. We are a church scattered to the four winds of our homes and limited social contact. Our lives are disrupted, and we are unable to gather as we want.
But we are also a church that still gathers. We gather in spirit and truth (John 4:24), in Zoom calls and on YouTube worship services, phone call check-ins and Facebook updates. During this Easter season, the church still gathers.
The image of Jesus gathering a harvest of grain may seem more appropriate to the fall harvest. Yet in this time of social distancing we are like seeds scattered on the hill, laying down roots where we’ve been scattered, and bearing fruit that is gathered together by our Lord. This image – of scattered seeds being gathered by our Lord – comes from an ancient Christian communion prayer:
As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
Was in this broken bread made one,
So from all lands your church be gathered
Into your kingdom by your Son.
Or, as Marty Haugen, a contemporary Lutheran hymn writer, renders it:
As the grains of wheat, once scattered on the hill
were gathered into one to become our bread,
so may all your people from all the ends of earth
be gathered into one in you.
~As the Grains of Wheat, Evangelical Lutheran Worship #465
This prayer comes from the Didache, an ancient Christian writing that includes prayers and liturgies for holy communion and baptism. It was written late in the first century, around the same time that some of the last New Testament books were written. This ancient prayer brings to us an ancient promise and a faithful hope – that the church scattered nonetheless is gathered by our Lord in the body he shares with us at the communion feast.
In this Easter season of simultaneous uncertainty and hope, we are gathered by our Lord to feed on his promises and to bear his grace in all we do. I’ll see you at church. The Church Still Gathers. Alleluia.