21st June 2020

As the Scottish Government leads us into phase two of the reduction in lockdown measures much has been said about the possibility of churches reopening.  There does seem to be quite a bit of confusion about this though, just as much within the church community as elsewhere.  This is understandable, given that the final decision about which buildings may or may not open lies primarily with the congregation but only inline with specific church guidelines and, in the case of the Church of Scotland, with the permission of Presbytery.  To be honest, at this stage I cannot advise you on if or when our churches will reopen.  It is unlikely to be any time soon given the restrictions placed upon us.  Don’t get me wrong, the restrictions are there for good reason and at all times our utmost concern has to be for the health and welfare of everyone.  We will reopen in time, but not just yet.

This got me thinking about worship though and just what it is that we miss about being able to worship together.  In a nutshell, it is the togetherness that we probably miss the most.  Being able to meet in person and share the joy of praising God has been a stronghold and blessing for many of us.  There is a strength in standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder as we sing and pray and listen and reflect on the goodness and mercy of God, and we miss it dreadfully.  Being able to worship together is something we have taken for granted and now that we can’t it has hit us hard.

However, this made me think about Christians in other parts of the world who have been unable to worship together publicly for years, if not all their lives, because to proclaim faith in Jesus Christ and to be seen worshipping and witnessing to his name can lead to persecution, imprisonment and even death.  Praise God, we are not in this position, but perhaps we can draw strength from their courage and inspiration from their determination to stand firm in faith.  Like them, we can continue to worship God where we are knowing that even though we may feel alone, we are assured otherwise.  

Every year on the World Day of Prayer I am encouraged and warmly reminded of the worldwide fellowship we enjoy as Christians.  Having served the church in Malawi and celebrated this service with my Christian brothers and sisters in that land, the knowledge that on that very same day Christians in other parts of the world were sharing the same liturgy, worshipping the same God, thinking of us as we thought of them.  It taught me that true Christian fellowship transcends physical presence with one another and therein was a sense of hope and comfort and union that was stronger than any physical separation could overcome.

We know that worship is something we can do on our own.  We may miss the assurance of praising God together in person.  But if this experience of lockdown has taught us nothing else, it has taught us to think more widely, to be more innovative, and to realise that we are not alone.  We have the joy of technology which, although a headache to some, has, with perseverance enabled us to link together in ways previous generations could never have imagined.  The challenge for us has been how to keep contact with those who do not have access to this technology, and we try to do so by sending this same information to folk by post.  In addition, I am currently exploring how we can enable those without internet access to join our Zoom worship by telephone and am open to any other suggestions folk may make in this regard too.

Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matt 18:20).  We always assume that he meant together in the physical sense, but I rather suspect that he meant this in the spiritual sense too.  We have access to so many different tools these days that enable us to connect to each other.  Let us use everything we have at our disposal to encourage one another in the faith.  May we know the assurance of spiritual connection, one to the other, a connection that continues despite any physical distancing measures that may separate us.  For we know that in Christ Jesus we are one, and in him, we share a love and hope none other can give.  

Lord Jesus, you promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age, a promise that tells us we need never fear being alone and without you by our side.  We confess that physical distancing in some cases made us feel isolated and alone.  Forgive us for forgetting that with you we are never alone.  
We rejoice that in other cases, physical distancing has ironically brought us closer together.  We have had to be more proactive about reaching out to each other, more deliberate in our intentions to connect one to the other, and in so many ways this has enriched our fellowship.  May we never tire of seeking new ways to make connections with each other.  May we strive without cease to reach out to those who feel even more isolated or alone, that they may be assured of our love and yours for them and their wellbeing.  
Thank you for being our strength, our comfort our hope, our guide.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Click on the link to listen to Stuart Townend singing “Every Promise”

Every Promise