This morning as I walked on the beach with the dogs, under a cold and leaden sky, there was a little chirrup on my phone….. a text… “I think I see you.”
On the other side of the estuary a friend was also walking, and she had spotted my red jacket and three little dogs. We waved and texted, and I walked along and she walked along, walking along together(!) separated only by the river and the sea.
There she is…. the focus enlarged until it goes blurry… forgive the lack of colour, a woman in grey against a grey sea under a grey sky and in front of a grey house….. but you know what? It was so lovely seeing her! This young woman is just the best, she’s a youth leader at church, and a good friend, great fun. We texted and waved and as she walked to her edge of the water and I walked to mine we were even close enough to shout”Hello-ah!” I think this could be called ‘extreme social distancing’. It was just so great to see someone from my church there in the middle of my silence, interrupting King David’s psalms. Fellowship of a strange and unexpected kind that left me buzzing!
Yesterday I had a similar experience when I was delivering something to friends and the husband came to the doorstep. We could have exchanged no more than a dozen words, the briefest of brief encounters, strangely awkward, but as I drove away I was elated. Yes! People matter. People are simply delightful.
I didn’t know that we mattered to each other so much. Did you? I wonder if you have also found this new and very real affection when you come across people you haven’t seen for a while? It’s so good seeing the face, hearing the voice, sharing the smile, and so much better than a screen presence. I didn’t think I would ever miss normal society as I have – I’m not one for the coffee and chat after Sunday Worship, because I don’t do small talk, and I’m anxious and physically uncomfortable in crowds. I avoid coffee mornings, and even struggle with prayer meetings and Bible studies because of all the chit-cat involved. Deafness has made me even worse of course, so that even on a one-to-one I can flounder. So, this new sense of missing folk, and the swell of joy and gratitude I feel when I see them, is a real revelation to me! It makes me think all sorts of new and sometimes confused things about church, about what we are and what we are meant to be, and what I am meant to be as a part of it. It makes me think about the love of God, and how he brings us to a new and softer place, a warmer and stronger place, sturdy in our affections and not so self-aware. And he’s brought me to this place without me even knowing about it! It’s a complete surprise. He’s softened my heart in spite of the stubborn me-ness of me.
One of my favourite thoughts about the church comes from William Tyndale, a stalwart Prottie who had his head chopped off for his faith in 1536, “The Church is the one institution that exists for those outside it. ”
Well, in a way we are all outside it just now. I know this isn’t what he was talking about – his was a loftier thought; the church exists for those who are not yet followers of Christ, but there are echoes of his thought in the Covid world right now. We are all outside the church in a way. We are outside the buildings, and the meetings, and the forms of worship we have adopted. We are outside the friendship groups, the house groups, the petty politics and the ups and downs of any community. But we are still the church. We are still brothers and sisters, family, and we long for each other’s company, for shared ideas and enthusiasms, prayer and laughter. That’s why for a few brief minutes yesterday and today, on a doorstep and on the beach, I was just bung-full of thankfulness for brothers and sisters, for the church family, apart and together, distant and yet so close, alone and eternally united.
Church drives me mad. I hate it. I love it. I long for it. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back when this lock-down is done. Can’t wait for it to start up again. Hope it never does. Blah. Who cares? I do! They’re all nuts. I’m nuts. The boring old building. The lovely familiar old building. Bloody tea and coffee! Oh, but sometimes we have cinnamon buns. And the teaching… ah, the teaching. Nothing can better that teaching. And yeah yeah, I know, just like there is no perfect family, so there is no perfect local church.
Paul uses a metaphor, the image of each of us as part of the physical building:
You are rising like the perfectly fitted stones of the temple; and your lives are being built up together upon the ideal foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and best of all, you are connected to the Head Cornerstone of the building, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ himself!
This entire building is under construction and is continually growing under his supervision until it rises up completed as the holy temple of the Lord himself. This means that God is transforming each one of you into the Holy of Holies, his dwelling place, through the power of the Holy Spirit living in you! Ephesians 2:20-22
God is transforming us, eh? Must be why my hard old crotchety heart is missing everyone. Surprises me, but I bet it doesn’t surprise God. It’s what he’s been doing in me for the last year.