Letter to the church family
October 28th, 2020
After a lull in the storm... the wind is beginning to pick up again and we realise when it comes to Covid-19 things are far from over. When that is coupled with less church community and fellowship than we are used to it may cause our heads to drop and feel a bit like that ‘wobbly fence’ mentioned a few Sundays ago: still standing but perhaps beginning to buckle a little under the pressures we are facing.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been reminding us that because of Jesus’ work of salvation we are partakers in his grace, set apart and secure in him. This means, wonderfully, he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion on the Day of Christ Jesus (1:6). He has us! He holds us! Furthermore, we have been reminded that we are gloriously called into a family of believers and given the task to humbly love and serve each other. This is a gift from God.
These are important truths to mediate on, for our inclination is to focus elsewhere. Especially when we are under pressure. In the letter to the Hebrews the author is very aware of people under pressure. Life is tough, and his readers are tempted to turn to wrong or old comforts, to create coping mechanisms (sometimes religion and ritual) to bring apparent respite from stormy weather. This was causing some to drift not only from the community of believers but from the gospel. And the two are connected.
So, what does the writer do? Well, firstly he shows them simply and beautifully, the person of Jesus (the only foundation for our ‘wobbly fence’). He reminds them that there is no other name that is greater, and nothing more wonderful. He leaves hungry readers spellbound, convinced that Jesus is the only Lord and Saviour, adding “we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” [2:1]. But not in isolation. He also reminds the wobbly Christians that they need each other! (fence posts?). We are naturally inclined to drift away from the Lord, so we need to ‘encourage’ or ‘exhort’ each other every day! [3:12-13].
As individuals, when our heads drop, we can feel the drift from God. In these moments, we need to act (even when we don’t feel like it!) and cry out to the Lord in prayer. In the Bible, Job faces dreadful life-storms, giving him a long list of valid reasons to doubt God’s care of him. Rather than walk away Job resolves to face God and ask ‘Why?’ (and not always politely). As I was reminded last week “my Father in heaven wants to hear the words, the feelings, the cheers and the tears of everyday life. He wants me to turn to him as a natural reflex of the soul.” (Andrew Collins - BCUK)
Also, when testing comes, we especially need each other.
Over the months it has been important (for those of us who can) to meet on-line and enjoy fellowship that way (we held our 32nd Sunday on Zoom this past weekend!). In so many ways we have managed to be the ‘gathered’ people of God, sitting under God’s word, praying together and in some way seeing each other at worship. However, in recent weeks it has been a timely boost to be able to finally meet physically as ‘church’ and do those things I have listed. Moreover, we have been able to obey the Lord’s command to break bread. *
Masks and social distancing mean the 4pm is still not like our meetings BC (Before Covid), and for some of us it feels we are more distanced than on Zoom (which in some senses we are). However, to gather physically has been so important. Habits form easily and we do not want to get into the habit of not meeting [Heb.10:25].
Of course, some of us have been wise and made the effort to meet up with other church family members during the week, which has been a delight (albeit hampered by the recent ‘rule of six’). We need to keep doing this, but all the while striving to be gathered as a body once again. Moreover, we have now made Prescott Avenue Church Centre available at certain times of the week for informal acts of worship for Grow Groups. Ask your GG leaders about that.
The big news is that soon (mid-late November we think) we aim to switch from meeting on Sunday afternoon to the new time of Sunday morning. Here we will broadcast the service live to those unable to attend in-person church on that Sunday. This will be our one main act of collective worship. Therefore, we will be stopping Zoom in its current form.
Many of us will struggle with this and feel we will lose some of that intimate fellowship that has been afforded us over the internet. Certainly, when it’s our turn to join in on-line (probably fortnightly to begin with) we will of course find it more passive than Zoom, so we need to be prepared (though the technology may soon allow us to ‘Zoom’ with others watching on-line). Nevertheless, we will sit under the same word and pray the same prayers. Also, please note that we are planning to continue Zoom for the usual breakout groups once the official act of worship has ended. (We also hope to run a children’s group as part of the morning meeting in the not-too-distant future.)
So, there will be hardship in these changes. Many of us appreciate advantages Zoom might have over in-person meetings, but I believe that is changing weekly. What we might consider loss will no doubt be superseded by what we gain! To physically meet is to taste more deeply our union in Christ. I personally have suffered ill affects from not meeting with others physically, as I am certain you have too. Whilst the current situation is not satisfactory, I am already reaping the benefit of some ‘normal’ interaction with my brothers and sisters. I wonder whether we need to grit our teeth somewhat and embrace this latest step towards how things used to be and see how it goes. (If suitable we will conduct another survey in January to ask for comment). No doubt as we do this we will need to keep in the forefront of our minds the Saviour’s song in Philippians 2:5-11 and the exhortation to have the mind of Christ, who, though being in very nature God, took the form of a servant, humbling himself, even unto death, for our eternal benefit.
The gathering of God’s people is crucial. Principally to bring God glory, but also to serve and encourage one another.
So “…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
With much love in Jesus’ name,
* Sadly, the Church of England has (wisely) ruled that we should distribute the Lord’s Supper in ‘one kind’ (bread only). This means it is deficient and not how the Lord Jesus instructed. However, what we are doing is better than nothing. With great thanksgiving we are sharing the same loaf, remembering our Saviour’s substitutionary death for us and, in a mysterious way, participating in it. We are recalling our union in Christ as his body the church as well as pledging ourselves again to his service.