I must confess. I have been angry at the church this last year. Angry that a church that proclaims that Jesus Christ is present each Sunday in the Eucharist, that guilts us into going each Sunday (and putting money in the offertory) to be with Him, closes its doors at the first sign of a pandemic. Angry that a church replaces the real presence of Jesus with a streaming video of the priest continuing to enjoy His presence. Angry that when the world needs God the most, the church locked its doors. Angry that when we returned, holy water was replaced with antibacterial hand sanitizer.
I blamed the church for my own sin, my own fear, my own distrust.
No more! The Church is made up of humans, just like me. And we fail. All the time. Jesus reached out to the sick, he touched the lepers. He doesn’t shy away from illness or close His doors or require us to wear a mask. He welcomes us with open arms when we are sick and when we are well. He kisses us, embraces us, and pulls us closer. Jesus isn’t afraid of death because he has overcome it. As much as our church proclaims this, our church is still full of humans who doubt, who fear, who are more afraid of a virus and death, than separation from our Lord. No more!
The Book of Revelation has always confused (and scared) me – but today it sheds some light:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”
The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” He said to me, “They are accomplished. I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there. The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there, but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27
There is no church building in heaven. There is no need for one. We fool ourselves into thinking that God is only in the building or that we can only pray and talk to Him there. Or that we need priests or ministers. We need God. The church and its priests and ministers are helpful, because there is strength in numbers. We need reminders of God’s presence. We need help fighting off the distractions of every day life. But our goal is not to be great in church. Our goal is not to have a great relationship with the church. Our goal is to have a great relationship with God. Because the church closed its doors, I developed a closer relationship with God. I discovered that although the church may be helpful, ultimately it is my personal relationship with God that is important, and He isn’t satisfied with a box being checked an hour a week, He doesn’t reward perfect attendance or hand out participation trophies. He wants me all in. He wants me to want to be with Him. (Who would want to spend eternity with someone who didn’t want to be there.)
Lord, I want to be present with you for all eternity. I want to be present with you every day here on earth as well. Help me to focus on you whether I am in a church building, in my home or out in the world. I want to embrace your presence wherever I go. I want the spring of your life-giving water to course through my veins. Lord, forgive the church and its leaders for being human, for having doubt, for being afraid, for cowering to the pressures of the world instead of standing steadfast in You and help me to forgive them too. Father, forgive me for my own doubts and fear and the many times that I too cower to the pressures of the human world. Forgive me for blaming the church when I am responsible for my relationship with you. Help me to remain steadfast in your love, your word and your glory. Guide the church and me to do your will, not the will of those around us. I know that your plan is far greater. I know that I don’t need to be afraid. I trust in you.