The Ideal … and the Real

So, we’ve done it. We’ve kicked off, pulled the trigger, dropped the hammer … We’ve met as a church, in person.

That was Sunday. And it was a fine beginning to our regathering process—90 people at first (socially distanced) with a few more joining us as we went along; and that beautiful constellation of people catching the stream from home.

I’ve never done anything like that—addressed the scattered saints, gathered in person, and then loved and cared for that other group on the other side of that little black camera with the green light.

And here’s another thing I’ve never done … I’ve never led an in-person but also virtual communion service. And that’s what we’re planning for this next Sunday!

And that’s where the story of personal transformation in all this starts for me. I’m an idealist. I love (LOVE!) the idea of the church gathered. I’m not crazy about the multi-site movement. I don’t even want to have more than one service. I love the picture we make at Woodland when we gather (especially at the Lord’s Table) of one body of believers, resting in the finished work of Christ, pressing toward that future, in-person, meeting with Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17). And we do this united, all in one place, together.

But, I’m also a realist. And I see we’ve been blown asunder in these last months. Now we’ve begun to regather, but we aren’t all gathered yet. There’s that beautiful part of our fellowship that’s worshipping at home, every bit a part of the whole as those who come and share space and air.

The idealist in me would wait to go to the Table till we’ve ceased the stream and seen all gathered in. But the realist will win the day, and we’ll go to the Table Sunday.  The reason comes from two verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here’s the first:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Did you get that last bit? … until he comes. The Table is given to us to remind us (among other truths) that the terminal point of our struggle in this world is our regathering with the Lord Jesus, in person. Until then, we’re kinda … we’re kinda “streaming”. We’re really, really with the Lord through the ministry of the Spirit, but we can’t touch him, be held by him, or feel His breath. To wait till we’re with the Lord to celebrate communion is to miss the point of the ordinance. The Table is our help for now … until he comes. It’s for His people in the process of being regathered. When we’ve finally arrived we won’t need the ordinance. We’ll have Him, Himself.

Now, I don’t want to blur the theology of the local church with the theology of the church invisible. (And don’t build your end times theology or your theology of the church on my meditation.) But do think with me about what we’re doing Sunday when we take the elements to proclaim the Lord’s death, united, together; some in-person, others streamed. We’re recognizing that we’re in the process of being gathered up. The regathering of our local church is a picture of the wider church universal that Jesus is gathering to Himself. And we’re to go to the Lord’s Table … until He comes.

The other verse is one that has long fascinated me: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face … (1 Corinthians 13.12a, KJV).

Paul is talking at the end of this chapter about love triumphant. While many gifts of the Spirit will cease at the great regathering of Jesus with His people, the reciprocal love of Jesus for His people and His people for Him (and one another) will endure. And, until we’re with Him, we’re living in a “stream” that grows ever stronger, sharper and clearer, until we see Him … face to face. Maybe the COVID-19 crisis with all its streaming and Zooming and virtual, but not quite satisfying, interaction can help us appreciate what it means to be … face to face. At least, I’m still thinking about this.

Whatever you take from my mid-week meditation, I hope you come to see the Lord’s Table we’ll celebrate Sunday as something we do to “remember” Jesus’ work (1 Corinthians 11.24-25); but also as something we do while we’re being “regathered” to Him, something we do till we’re in His presence. Until then, we’re in process, we struggle, we move together, we receive His grace.

That’s a big enough thought for one week, don’t you think? If you’re in our church family and you’re preparing for the Table Sunday, let me hear from you at [email protected]. Let me know what these recent months have taught you about God and His people.

And have a great week, in the Lord!

 

 

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