✙ Ps 95:1
Praying Psalm 95 is a bit jarring this year. It calls God's people together to worship joyfully. Many churches are doing just that, crowding together and singing loudly without masks. But many—for the time being, at least—are not. Some are gathering at a distance, refraining from singing. Others are limiting their worship to online experiences. My church, of course, is in this last group, having decided that, just as Israel had to complete the term of its exile before returning to the Promised Land, so today's Christians need to refrain from face-to-face worship until we know it will not worsen a pandemic ravaging the world.
This decision on our part was not easy, nor does everybody agree with it. But it does give me renewed appreciation for corporate worship in general, and today's passage in particular. This psalm which calls God's people into a worshiping community reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together, in which he states that:
It is by God's grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God's word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace.
The Holy Spirit who unites us in worship when we are in the same room unites us still when we are isolated. But it takes more spiritual maturity to realize it. On the bright side, our isolation also helps us realize what it means for a Christian to have hope. We now better understand the grace Bonhoeffer was talking about. And the hope that our exile will soon end is now central to our faith.
Thank you, O Holy One, for the grace of community. May my joy at the thought of singing your praises be made that much sweeter by the knowledge that, even in isolation, I am not singing them alone; in Jesus' Name who taught me to pray not to my Father, but to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowèd be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.