“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And 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 10:23-25 ESV
Our church has faced tremendous challenges over the past two years as we have done our best to navigate the pandemic. Our church, like many others, has inconsistently physically gathered for weekly worship. We’ve wanted to submit to our governmental authorities when we’ve cancelled services. When we’ve remained home, we’ve wanted to love our neighbours well. No doubt, all the decisions we’ve made have not been perfect, but we have tried to seek the mind of God and seek His wisdom.
Thanks be to God; we have been permitted to return for some time. As we have returned to worship together, we’ve tried to do so with a sense of care. We’ve also strived to regain some semblance of “normalcy.” We often hear that people can’t wait to “get back to normal.” Many churches, ours included, have seen drops in attendance (online or in-person) and financial declines. We believe God will help us through any of the challenges we have faced along the way. People already have a thousand reasons to stay away from church. This is not a new problem. Today people find many reasons to absent themselves from worship, be it commitments to sportsball or just sheer laziness. Add Coronavirus to that mix, and it’s no wonder that attendance is low.
I think there is something in Hebrews chapter 10 that is vital to consider. The physical gathering of God’s people is essential to the life of a Christian. The reading above invites us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (v. 23). We have hope, and it is one strong enough to hold. God has promised this hope to us. He has promised that Christ will come again and give us eternal life. And God is faithful to deliver on his promises. So let us hold fast to the confession of our hope.
That hope is why we should “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (v. 24). And this happens as we meet together, sit shoulder-to-shoulder, and revisit the story of our salvation. Together, we remember the world is broken because of human sin and rebellion. Together, we proclaim it is being renewed through Christ. When some of us don’t meet together, when we neglect the assembling of the brothers here in church, that stirring up and that encouraging suffers. The church is how and where, and when we get to know one another, talk to one another, and find out how we can stir one another up to love and good works. We find out who is hurting and how we can help. Even our physical presence in the pew is encouraging. We see our brothers and sisters here with us, and it is encouraging. We hear their voices, confessing the faith together with us in the Creed, singing with joy and praise.
So it is all the more critical that we, frankly, come to church. Like, every Sunday. Not once a month. Not twice a month. Not just when it’s convenient, and it doesn’t interfere with our precious plans. No, every Sunday, every Lord’s Day, and other services and Bible classes and occasions.
We must believe that something happens in this physical gathering of the church that can’t be reproduced virtually and mediated through a screen. During that time, many of us have discovered that some elements of church—such as the preaching of God’s Word and praying—can be done online effectively. Yet, I don’t believe God’s long-term answer for anyone is to spend their church time at home watching online. No video conferencing can fully replace singing together, exchanging handshakes and hugs, and catching up on the past week in person. No video can give you the Lord’s Body and Blood to eat and drink.
For many, returning to church won’t be easy. For some of us, we’ll be afraid. Getting to church will still require trusting the God who calls us to assemble. At some point, we’re going to have to decide: are we more afraid of Covid than God? Covid is not going away, so does that mean you will never come back? What does it profit a person to have the right view on masks and Covid and forfeit their soul?
While many have gathered back in the sanctuary for church services, others are not quite ready to return yet. Please rest assured, we understand! If you feel it best to attend church with a face covering, then please do! Perhaps you think that you have adequate immunity due to having the virus or from getting the vaccine, then, by all means, you are encouraged to attend church! Yet, please know if you are still in a place where you don’t feel ready to return; we understand. If you would like to discuss your situation personally, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
But fear won’t be our only obstacle to returning to church. Many of us we’ll find it difficult mainly because we’ve lost the habit. Notably, that’s the word the writer of Hebrews uses in the tenth chapter: Don’t neglect “to meet together, as is the habit (or custom) of some” (10:25). This word reminds us how much of our spiritual lives, both individual and corporate, rely on rhythms and routines. It reminds us how spiritual habits can act like a current: catching us, carrying us, sending us along in our life with God. Gathering for worship is not an optional activity. It is not an occasional activity. It is an ongoing and regular commitment.
The bad news about habits is that habits take time to form. Change, by habit, is slow and steady. We’ve lived through two long years where “doing” church in our pyjamas has grown comfortable and easy. Establishing a new habit (or recovering a former habit) always requires us to overcome resistance. If we wait until we “feel” like going back to church, that day might never come.
But there’s good news, too: habits don’t require cleverness. Getting back to church might feel like running through mud—but running is like walking. You learned it long ago, and it’s unlikely you’ve forgotten. You simply put one foot in front of another. You set the alarm. You get dressed, leave your house, and walk the desolate Sunday morning streets. At the church door, you grab your bulletin and then slide into your pew. When the first song begins to play, you pray: I believe, help my unbelief.
“And all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Yes, that day is drawing near, the day of Christ’s return. We don’t know when it will be, but we know that it will be. As we move closer to the coming of the Lord, we must keep our focus on Christ. I believe it’s vital that we, as believers meet together for worship and fellowship as we learn more about walking together in the love of God.
And by God’s grace, you do, for at least another week.