In today’s Bible reading* God promises a new day when the people of God are gathered from their exile.
In God’s judgment and anger, He scattered His rebellious people, sending them far from their homes in Israel and Judah to an exile in Babylon in modern-day Iraq. But God says a day is coming when He will once again gather His people from where He scattered them.
“ This is what the Lord GOD says: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples where they are scattered, I will demonstrate my holiness through them in the sight of the nations, and they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob.
They will live there securely, build houses, and plant vineyards. They will live securely when I execute judgments against all their neighbors who treat them with contempt.
Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.”
Ezekiel 28:24–26 (CSB)
Of course, there was an immediate fulfillment when God’s people returned to their homeland. Soon we’ll read about Ezra and Nehemiah’s leadership of God’s people as they return to their homeland.
But there was a later fulfillment of God’s promise to gather His people, too. And there will be another fulfillment of God’s promise to gather His people.
In the past year and a half, the world has dealt with a global pandemic. National, state, and local governments have closed businesses. Sporting events — and entire sports seasons — were canceled. Teachers were forced to learn new ways of teaching so that their students could learn remotely from home. New York City even closed Broadway for over a year.
And churches everywhere stopped meeting. Some were forced to stop meeting. Several churches in California sued the governor over his executive orders prohibiting groups larger than a few people from meeting. In their lawsuit alongside other churches, Grace Community Church argued that Governor Newsome’s executive orders violated the religious rights of their members. The churches won their lawsuits and in the past few days, won financial settlements from the state.
So why would preventing churches from meeting be a violation of religious rights? The governor was simply protecting the health of his state’s citizens, right?
John MacArthur, senior pastor of Grace Community Church said that the very nature of the church is to be a “gathered community of believers”. The word translated “church” means “the called-out ones” or “the assembled ones”.
Sure, churches were able to move their services to an online format. Our church began live streaming at least part of our services on Facebook. But something was missing. There was no sense of “fellowship”. Our only “connection” was through Facebook, Zoom, and broadcast text messages. Thanks to technology, we did have that. But like I said, something was missing.
Even when we began meeting together again, we practiced “social distancing” and wore masks. Gone were the hugs and handshakes. It seemed sterile. And that was the point. Some of our members began to wear face shields instead of masks so they could see each other’s faces. We began to remove our masks and sat a little closer together. But something was still missing.
We had removed our offering plates from the Lord’s Supper Table and stopped passing the plates. They were placed on a table at the back of our auditorium. God blessed us with a steady income as our people continued to give faithfully. But something was still missing.
When we incorporated almost two years ago, we included in our Constitution and Bylaws that we would celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the Fifth Sunday of those months that had five Sundays. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, we skipped this part of our church calendar.
Then in May 2021, on the Fifth Sunday, we formed a large circle around our auditorium and celebrated the Lord’s Supper for the first time in over a year. Gathering around “The Lord’s Table” was the thing that had been missing. We didn’t want to be ruled by fear, but we wanted to feel safe when we gathered for this church ordinance, one of only two ordinances we observe.
Gathering for the Lord’s Supper is a big deal. It’s an opportunity for every believer in the building — church members or not — to gather around what unifies us: the atoning death of Jesus Christ and the instituting of a New Covenant in His blood.
God fulfilled His promise to gather His people after their Exile in the Old Testament days. And He began to do it again in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost when God’s people from all over were in Jerusalem and received the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Joel 2.
Since that Day, God’s people have gathered and sent out some in order to take the Gospel message all around the world so people could respond to the Gospel and gather around Jesus.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: