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We come back to worship, but it’s just not the same.

I was giddy with anticipation. After two months of exile, we were finally going to gather again to worship in church.

Initially I had envisioned our first service back to be a welcome home celebration. The church would be full. The music would be glorious. People would be hugging each other. Not a few tears of joy would be shed.

Life at church would go back to the way it used to be.

The reality

The reality of our first service back was quite different. Since we are having multiple services to allow for social distancing, the church was only a quarter full. We couldn’t socialize before or afterward. No hugs or handshakes were shared. People were forced to sit apart.

Don’t get me wrong. The service was still a celebration. We thanked God for his grace. We talked about never again taking for granted the privilege of worshiping together. We said and sang the words of Psalm 122, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ ”

Tears were shed.

But as I gazed on the masked faces in worship and saw the tears swell, I wondered if they were tears of joy or tears of sorrow. We were happy to be back, but it just wasn’t the same.

Another homecoming

Two thousand six hundred years ago, the children of Israel found themselves in a markedly longer and less luxurious exile. They were conquered by the Babylonians. The temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed. They were carried off into exile for 70 years.

At the end of those 70 years, God brought his people back. They began to rebuild the city, their homes, and the temple. When the foundation of the temple was finished, the people came together to dedicate it.

Our lives are a bittersweet mix of emotions. Yet through it all, God’s promises hold true.

They had been waiting for this day for 70 years. They were finally going to be able to worship God again in his temple. The people cried out in joy as they sang their praises. Mixed in the crowd were also those who as children had seen the original temple in all its glory. They wept aloud when they saw the foundation, knowing the new temple was going to be nothing compared to Solomon’s original. Ezra, the priest, tells us that “no one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping because the people made so much noise” (Ezra 3:13).

A new normal

Like the Jews return to Jerusalem, our return to worship was bittersweet. It was so wonderful to be back and able to worship God again, but it just was not quite the same.

If the experts are right, things will probably never be quite the same again. We will soon have to adjust to a new normal. Such is life in a sin-filled world. Though God gives us times of joy and celebration, there are also times of sorrow and sickness. Our lives are a bittersweet mix of emotions. Yet through it all, God’s promises hold true.

God will be with us every step of the way. He will make everything work for our good. Most important, Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that one day we will be able to stand in God’s house of heaven and sing our praises with unrestrained joy. In heaven, we won’t worship with mixed emotions.

Right now, our return to worship at our churches may be bittersweet, but it’s there where we find God’s promise of heaven.

And that is just plain sweet.

Authors: Andrew Schroer
Volume 107, Number 8
Issue: August 2020

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