“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed, it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2, NRSV)
According to John Wesley's One Volume Commentary on the Bible, Psalm 84 is "an expression of deep affection for the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, not only as a place of worship but as an icon of God's presence among God's people." For the Jewish people, visiting the temple was both a privilege and a duty, similar to how most of us feel about the church today. In the temple, people experienced the collective energy of worshiping God with other believers while experiencing an overwhelming sense of God's presence.
This awareness of God's presence emerged from the temple's impressive physical structure and the ornate and elaborate furnishings that inspired awe and reverence. The environment moved people to worship as soon as they entered the space, especially those who only visited the temple infrequently. Even people who never had the chance to see the temple's magnificence personally would speak longingly of what the experience might be like for them if they ever had the opportunity to worship there.
In conversations I've had with people in our congregation, I hear the same longing to worship again in our sacred place. Being together in our beautiful sanctuary with the sun shining through the stained-glass windows inspires us to worship. Gazing on the familiar symbols of our faith reminds us of the tradition upon which our church is built. Seeing the smiling faces of those who gather with us is a blessing that connects us to the family that this church has become. The vibrating organ chords, the choir's harmony, and ringing handbells serve as echoes of God's love that has been proclaimed in this building for almost 100 years and, in this congregation, for nearly 200 years! The question people ask is, "When do you think we'll be able to gather together again?" The best answer I can give is as soon as is safely possible, and the sooner, the better.
I hope that as the rate of vaccination increases, the alarming rate of hospitalizations in our local area will decrease. We already see a drop in the infection rate for COVID-19, hopefully, an enduring trend. Like many of you, I want us to worship in-person at the church as soon as possible.
Yet, we all recognize it won't be the same as before—at least, not at first. Those who worshiped with us back in October and early November of 2020 know the experience was familiar but different. And yet, as more people return, the look and feel of worship will feel more natural and normal.
To speed up the timeline for in-person worship, keep checking on one another, continue wearing your masks and maintaining distance, get vaccinated as soon as possible, and keep the faith. God was not surprised by this pandemic, nor can the pandemic deter God's mission in any way. In the meantime, consider ways you can share God's presence to others—in other words, find ways to be the church in the world!