Greetings church in exile! After all, that’s what we are right now. At least in part, we know what the children of Israel experienced as they lived in far-away Assyria and Babylonia. They were forced to live apart from their beloved temple in Jerusalem. They weren’t able to worship the Lord as they had since the time of Solomon. No more sacrifice. How isolated and individual the worship they carried out in their houses. How empty life felt without the uplift of worship together in the house of God!
So for us. It wasn’t enemy armies that carried us away. Instead a virus has forced us to physically distance ourselves from the church. Yes, the service has been canceled this Sunday. It is necessary for us to protect each other by separating ourselves from those of like faith. As the Israelites had no idea when (or if) they would ever return and rebuild the temple, so we have no clue when we will be free to go and worship as the family of Holy Faith. We are left to worship at home in any form we can around the Word of God.
Yet God was always with His people. He called them to repentance, to turn from themselves, and to rely upon Him! Throughout their time apart from the temple, God spoke words of hope and promise through His prophets. Lent is a great time to read those words. Listen to Joel: “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). Yes, He was the Israelite’s God in exile and He’s our gracious God, abounding in steadfast love for each of us! Or my favorite from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plan would return Israel to their homes and their temple. Through them He would bring forward the Savior Jesus, who is God’s loving plan for us.
Even as we are away from the church building, we are the church. Peter, whose name means “rock,” is the one who said that as we come through faith to Jesus the “Lliving Stone”, we become Living Stones, built into a spiritual house…” While apart from the church building, we are the church. While we cannot worship in the church building, Jesus is there uniting us as one even in physical separation. Reach out in God’s love to each other in any way you can. And be open to God’s love as it comes to you from others. Jesus loves you and so do I! Pastor Craig