Where 2 or 3 Gather – Covidtide Prayers 3/3: “In His Name” – Brad Jersak

“Yes: where two or three come together in my name,
 I’ll be there in the midst of them.”
(Matthew 18:20 NTE).

Can we once again conceive of a Christ-centered faith in which
two or three are gathered “in his name”?

Previously, in this three-part series, I challenged the idea that a pandemic or an indefinite, legislated quarantine can truly “cancel church.” Neither God’s people nor our faith has ever been eradicated by plagues or persecution, “by famine, danger, nakedness or sword.”

Will disillusionment, cynicism or trendy deconstruction be the end of God’s family? Will the tarnish of our innumerable sins or cynicism at our egregious corruption be the final nail in the Bride’s coffin? I doubt it.  

The Church Resilient 

We (I use “we” advisedly) are either miraculously resilient or we simply die and rise again without fail. So… Covid-19. Cancel ‘church’? Not a chance. Purge and purify it? That’s both our now-invitation and our age-old track record.   

I still hear Gloria Gaither’s impassioned voice on vinyl in 1977, exhorting courage in the Gaither’s anthem, “The Church Triumphant”:

God has always had a people.
Many a foolish conqueror has made the mistake of thinking that because he had forced the church of Jesus Christ out of sight, he had stilled its voice and snuffed out its life, but

God has always had a people.
The powerful current of a rushing river is not diminished because it’s forced to flow underground.
The purest water is the stream that burst crystal clear into the sunlight after it has forced its way through solid rock.
There have been charlatans who, like Simon the Magician, sought to barter on the open market that power which cannot be bought or sold.

God has always had a people,
men who could not be bought and women who were beyond purchase.

God has always had a people.
There have been times of affluence and prosperity when the church’s message has been nearly deluded into oblivion by those who sought to make it socially attractive, neatly organized, financially profitable,

but God has always had a people.
Yes, it’s been gold platted, draped in purple and encrusted with jewels.

It has been misrepresented, ridiculed, lauded and scorned,

but God has always had a people.
And these followers of Jesus Christ have been, according to the whim of the times, elevated sacred leaders and modern heretics.
Yet through it all, their march is on that powerful army of the meek.
God’s chosen people who cannot be bought, flattered, murdered or stilled.
On through the ages, they march, the church!
God’s church triumphant! Alive and well!

Too triumphalistic? Nah. I’d say Gloria carefully avoided whitewashing our ugly side. The triumph she proclaims is not a testimony of institutional glory. She’s recalling the victories of God’s grace despite us. Alive. Yes, we are. Well? Maybe that’s a faith statement of what could be.    

I also proposed that using the New Testament alternative term oikos (house, household, home) might help us ditch some of the baggage accrued by the word “church” and retrieve the sense of family belonging that gets lost. What if Jesus’ “two or three gathered” evoked the hospitality of “my house is your house” and the sense of secure love we feel in the phrase, “Welcome home!”     

“In his name” 

Just as my friend Paul helped me ponder the differences between house and home, so he inspired me to rethink what gathering in Jesus’ name could look like—both under lockdown and beyond. I am no longer convinced we are being church by merely gathering. If Eden and I gather to watch “The Valhalla Murders” on Netflix, we may be the church (God’s family) but are we really being church during our binge? Is this actually “family time” in his name)?

Paul helped me imagine gathering in his name using my granddaughter as an analogy:

Ahhyeon, our little dolly, is without a doubt a forever-member of our family. She IS family. That will never change, regardless of the physical distance that separates us—in our case, the vast span of the Pacific Ocean. We like seeing her via social media and FaceTime. But one day, we hope to be together in person and gather as family. Then our words of affection will become flesh, our love expressed in touch, and our virtual affection will be embodied (incarnate) in hugs and kisses.

When Ahhyeon first arrives in our home, we won’t simply gather. We will have a feast in her name. We will celebrate her presence with grandiose toasts and speeches. We will sing to her and listen to her and express our devotion to her with mountains of gifts and treats. Our best friends and family will be invited, to join in the festivities. And all of us together will know as Ahhyeon most surely will—this party is in her name. It will be, without a doubt, all about her.

Now let’s transpose this analogy to Christ to see what’s important, what we may have missed and how to refocus our attention through quarantine and beyond. What does “in his name” signify?

  • It’s about Jesus. Two or three gathered in his name means the gathering is not about football, gossip or Netflix. It’s at the name of Jesus that every knee bows and tongue confesses his Lordship—that God is glorified and exults his Son. The same people may congregate but this meeting is especially in his honor.

  • It’s about presence—living, loving connection. When we gather in his name, Christ is in our midst. Yes, by the Spirit, Christ is everywhere, at all times. We get that. But Christ’s words here are not empty. WHERE does Christ happen? Christ inhabits our midst—in love-one-another. Christ indwells the love passing between us.
    We are not meeting to memorialize someone who is dead, absent or elsewhere. Christ is here and now, a living presence experienced in our gathered-love, embodied in each of his children. Christ is not invisible or intangible—we see him in the Scriptures, in the chalice, but most of all, Christ is seen and loved in those we see and love. To be seen and loved—that’s our deepest longing. Will we learn to find it in his household?    

  • It’s a feast—God’s banquet. Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet. He spoke these parables at actual feasts where he was guest of honor. He established the new covenant at a Passover meal—his “Last [sort of] Supper.” Then he made celebration of the wine and the bread of his sacrificial love the central point and apex of our worship.
         Could Covid-19 be our invitation back to the table? To make dinner time at home a daily (or weekly) opportunity to recall the original Passover, the Lamb’s protection and our Exodus in Christ? Perhaps it would include a Psalm, a prayer of thanks and a glass of wine.
         And after quarantine? I cannot imagine worship that makes table fellowship optional but smoke machines mandatory. Time to revisit the agape meal in its festive form, yes?  
         Nor should table fellowship be insular—a club for insiders. No. Jesus said so. Invite, invite, invite. And that includes you know who—the poor, the outcast and outsider, the “black sheep” and the scorned sinner.
         And Christ also says go, go, go. Visit those perpetually quarantined by disability or age or homeless … bring dinners or at least fresh water and socks to those who have none. If Christ is not found in the lost sheep, he may not be found at all.  

  • It’s a celebration of adoration. In his name means we adore Christ with words, with songs and prayers, with gifts of art and poetry. Since it’s a banquet, we may raise a toast of gratitude and honor the one who gave himself freely for our very lives. Whatever else this celebration is, it calls for participation. Whatever our platform, virtual or actual, how might the post-quarantined household be compelled to join in more fully? Can we flatten the curve that centralizes power and reduces family time to spectator games? How can we emulate Christ as he used privilege to make space for the marginalized and then ultimately set it aside himself?

  • It’s Jesus’ turn. Our various traditions engage the voice of God in various ways—from Gospel readings to prophetic encouragement to contemplative silence. No matter how your tribe opens its spiritual ears, let’s make sure Jesus is given his turn to speak. On purpose. Like, slot it in. And know this: it will always be the Word of invitation, no compulsion—the Word love redeeming love, not condemnation. Our Word brings and IS Light, Love and Life that dispels darkness, dread and death. Jesus the Word of God, meaning that Christ IS what God has to say about himself. Listen well, because this party’s in his name.

I could go on and you may see it differently, but I hope the coronavirus interruption may help us recalibrate Christian worship and discipleship. If we’re super-mindful right now, quarantine may be the best thing that’s happened to “the church” in a long, long time.

Let’s use this time to re-imagine the faith of
two or three gathered in his name.    

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