REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 6: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
It was late in the afternoon of Easter Day that we were able to articulate our feelings of loss. We have been greatly edified and encouraged by the on-line ministry we have been able to engage in, so it was not the sense of worship, teaching or even singing that we were missing, but the fellowship of the brothers and sisters in worship when we normally gather.
I did notice however, though we have been able to sing, it is nowhere near as edifying as when we are all together. Congregational singing is an absolute standout treasure as far as we are concerned. Hymns, songs and choruses with good, God- honouring words and singable tunes (especially ones that we blokes can sing) have their own power to lift sad, preoccupied or broken hearts out of self-pity, self-centredness, worldly thinking and mundane cares, to the throne of our gracious Father and to the sympathetic and understanding heart of our ascended High Priest, our Saviour and Friend. I am missing the power of communal voices each Sunday, which like the camel’s hump gets into me stored up nourishment that sustains me in the ups and downs of life. I think this is why both Old and New Testament believers are exhorted to sing together (Psalm 95:1-2, 96:1-3; Ephesians 5:15-21, 1 Cor 14:15). We anticipate and bring a taste of Heaven down to earth and to each other (Revelation 5:6-14) when we sing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, not only for the Heavenly gathering around our risen Lord and Saviour, but for those whose voices combine with ours on Sundays, which are themselves a foretaste of the Heavenly (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Our low- grade depression, our loss of this fellowship, is natural, but once recognised and owned can be compensated for as we thank God for the memories we have of gathering. Here are some possible reasons why:
- If we are honest, sometimes we have taken these times for granted, and even been critical of each other or the songs that were chosen (or not). This of course was sinful and as we miss what we do not have we can thank God for the fellowship we have had. Repentance for our critical or whinging spirit, which in all probability, did not help our fellows and caused us to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:29) rather than to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) will revive and refresh us and others. Notice the congregational contexts of these two passages!
- On the other hand, grieving the loss of the fellowship and friendships each Sunday (and our mid-week gatherings) may be because we have invested this aspect of our discipleship with too much importance and expectation. It may be because we have become dependent on each other in fellowship rather than on our heavenly Father in worship. This is so easily done and is an unintended result of the right corrective of the late 1960’s that church is to be more than worship. The result is that we expect far too much from each other and nowhere near as much from God. Our forced isolation gives us opportunity to grieve the loss of reliance upon the living God who, let’s be honest, not only knows us better than do our brothers and sisters, but can be with us and understand us in every circumstance in ways that they cannot, indeed were never designed by God to be. We will become stronger as we rely upon God more and, paradoxically, more able to help each other as we do.
- Absence from the joys of fellowship and congregational worship for a while helps us understand the lot of most of our persecuted brothers and sisters, who it must be noted, seem to be much stronger in troubles, resilient in hardships, and more committed as disciples than we are. Recognition of this will surely sharpen our prayers, and our financial partnership with them (1 Peter 4:1-11 comes to mind).
- As we look forward to the times when we are able to gather we can only anticipate the joy that this will be. Our absence will indeed make our hearts grow fonder for our gatherings, and if our necessary absence is welcomed as God’s gift, will wean us from our over-dependence on fellowship and each other in favour of increasing our satisfaction in Him. Our short term depression will have served its purpose in helping us value our fellowship with each other and with God all the more.
Short term pains for long term gains, from the gracious hand of God, are easier to bear, and bound to grow our relationship with our Father, through His Son by the ministry of His Spirit, thereby, as a rich by-product, growing our love for one another. This is certainly the promise of our risen Lord (Acts 20:35) and the burden of Paul’s benediction in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-12.
Peter Brain 16th April, 2020