“[Jesus said,] ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’”
(John 15:9-11, NRSV)
When Jesus talks about abiding in his love, he's describing what it's like to live in an intimate connection with him. The closer we are in relational proximity to God, the more likely we are to thrive. God created us to interact with him at the deepest and most profound levels. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall when they lived face-to-face with God and could walk and talk with him. That's what awaits us when we abide in Jesus' love for us. When we fail to make an intimate connection or lose it through neglect or rejection resulting from our sinful independence, we are lost and dislocated from God. Any separation jeopardizes our well-being and threatens the quality of our lives. We cannot experience true joy apart from abiding in God.
Some of us may have experienced some separation from God over the past year. Without the fellowship of our faith community to nurture our relationship with God, we grew distant. The community of God's faithful has always played a role in developing our faith. We've missed that connection, and we shouldn't underestimate the impact of not having had the fellowship. As more and more people come back to the sanctuary for worship, though, it's refreshing to reengage with one another. These relationships are a source of hope. Although we are masked, our eyes can still communicate so much joy at being together again. I've seen joyful eyes sparkle even more as tears well up from the pleasure of reconnecting with others. The energy is increasing every week, and it feels as if we may finally be getting our church back.
The reconnecting brings grief, too. Reconnecting reminds us that not all those who gathered with us before the pandemic are with us today. We can deal with the frustration of not having our regular pew to sit in because of the social distancing; however, it's much more challenging to deal with memories of those whose pews will remain forever unoccupied by them. We've lost some great spirits over these last 14 months, and we couldn't properly mourn our losses. These losses add to our feelings of dislocation.
To move beyond our experiences of dislocation requires focusing on relocating ourselves into God's future for our church. God has something in mind for our future because God isn't finished with us yet. Besides regaining what was lost, we can connect in new and more meaningful ways with God and our community. Many people who wouldn't consider participating in a church before the pandemic may be hungering for deeper connections, and if we try some new things, they might be more willing to give us a try.
In positioning ourselves closer to God, he will show us how to reach new people in our community. While we work on the challenges of reconnecting with our existing congregation, we can also seize the opportunity to connect with others for the first time. It's not either/or; it's both/and. If I've learned nothing else from the pandemic, I've learned that not only do we need God, but we also need each other. Let's get closer to God, closer to each other, and closer to those searching people in our community.