There is one verse in the New Testament of the Bible that puzzles me these days — more than others, and in a way it didn’t before last March. I ran across it during this morning’s reading, so I can cite it and write about it without the large amount of hunting that I’d have to do other days.
That verse is Matthew 18:20 — “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” That’s Jesus speaking to his followers. The wording doesn’t change much across different English translations, but for those interested in comparing closely and easily, here is biblestudytools.com’s list of different versions.
To some degree, this is a mystery — not a detective story, but something we cannot solve in this world. But as the pandemic goes on, and I “go to church” in the same chair (and via the same computer) where I’m writing this, I’m troubled by several words in just one verse.
What’s “gathering”? I know that J. in Michigan, C. in Idaho and many friends in Chicago are watching the same pastors broadcasting services that I watch. But are we truly gathered? Does concentrating our minds and souls count?
How big is “in the midst of” us? It’s easy to think of a church congregation being together — which is at the root of the meaning of the word “congregation” — and its Lord being there in the midst of them. But are we being as obedient as we can be when “in the midst of” us is such a big place, because we aren’t gathering in the same place?
There have been times when I’ve written in my diary about “what I did at church today” without meaning the time I went to help with the scripture readings (just once since the closing). But there have been many others when I catch myself writing “I heard,” “I watched,” or “I ‘went’ to church.”
I know that the pandemic is at its worst so far. More than 4,000 people died in the U.S. the day before I wrote this. But is the church really being effective by keeping out the vast majority of its members and keeping us from even a glimpse of the people around us? I am left wondering too often.
I miss S. across the aisle, who likes to come as early as I do to hear the choir practice before the early service. I miss the choir practice before the early service! (But I’m glad that they aren’t risking one another’s health.) I miss G. in my usual pew, six from the front, who teases me if I get the count wrong and wind up in a different pew.
I miss L. in the choir and several different Cs around her. I miss J. playing the organ — oh, I hear him over the computer, but I miss being in the same room and feeling the hairs move on my arms because so much air is moving through the organ pipes.
I may not want Matthew 18:20 once we can gather in church again, but it might hit the spot. I do know the Psalm I’d like to hear read and sung — I’ll even read it myself — once we are allowed back in church. It’s Psalm 122, beginning “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
I’m not reading that much right now, but I hope I can read and hear it soon.
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.