By the Rivers of Babylon – The Lord’s Supper and Our Home Exile – from Pastor Sean on 4/2/20

New Life in Christ
Pastoral Letter
April 2, 2020

Dear New Life in Christ Church Family,

1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
Psalm 137:1–6

The message of the Scripture is always timely. In our studies in the Psalms with Pastor Doug, we’ve learned how God’s Word speaks to our emotions and longings. And now, during our recent study through 1 Peter, we are reminded that we are “elect exiles”, how we are not at home in the world, and yet we follow and worship our God. We are reminded every week that we go nowhere by accident, but that we bring the Lord Christ with us wherever we go – to our work, our community, and our homes. This week we learn what it means to bring Christ with us, “in our homes”.

In responding to the emerging health crisis, we have entered a new kind of exile – a separation from one another and from public worship, while we are confined to our homes.

This is minor compared to the “exile” of the early church suffering through persecution, but it is nonetheless true of us as well. Whenever we cannot gather with the people of God, we experience a lamentable separation. It is especially highlighted to us this week – we will not be able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

At our services each week, we begin by praying for the presence of God to be in our midst. We claim the Biblical promise that wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is present with them. When Jesus says this, He is talking about more than spiritual presence. We know that God is present everywhere. He means He is present in His promises.

We see God’s promises to us in what we call “The Means of Grace” – the different ways God communicates His promises to us. The Shorter Catechism identifies three “means of grace”: the Word, the Sacraments and prayer – three ways that we grow as Christians. In other words, we grow when we (by faith) read the Bible and hear someone preach, when we receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and when we pray. These are not just rituals, they are ways that God communicates His great promises to us.

These are promises He communicates as we gather as a Body. While God indwells each one of us, none of us is “the Church”. And so even as we gather virtually, and find great encouragement that way, we realize that something is missing – the physical presence of one another.

I believe that our virtual services are critical now. I appreciate how much effort everyone has made to make them possible. I also appreciate how many people are taking advantage of them. But it also highlights the troubles of our world right now because of what we can’t do and what is different.

  • With corporate worship the entire Body gathers and with the use of every person’s unique gifts and voices. Every worshiper testifies to the truth, power, and glory of God. Everyone matters in this gathering of worship. It is so significant that when people miss worship, the whole group misses out in their presence and their voice. You may not know it, but I do! It is like a missing team member in a critical sports match. The Lord’s Day is important, not just for you, but for the people you will see and encourage just by being there.
  • When God built His church, He constituted the offices of elders and deacons and called and equipped pastors to lead that local Body in the service of worship. The Church is more than a simple gathering of believers; it has an organizational “shape” and purpose with identified roles. We cannot duplicate that with small informal groups.
  • Because we are not together, we cannot celebrate the sacraments. The sacraments bring together spiritual reality with physical elements. When we take the Lord’s Supper, we gather around a table together. I know it looks like we pass a tray down the rows, but spiritually, we are gathered around Jesus’ table and eating with Him.

Our congregating together matters greatly as part of the Lord’s Supper, so much that Paul used the phrase “when you come together” five times in explaining the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. He also said, “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, … all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10.17). We cannot take one bread unless we are all together, eating from one bread. That’s why it wouldn’t be right to partake of the Lord’s Supper virtually.

 The Psalmist said, “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob (Psalm 87:2). God loves His people. He loves the place of His worship. And He loves satisfying and strengthening His people. We enjoyed the Lord’s Supper every month for our 45-year history. That we will have to miss it this month will be a great sadness and a reason to pray, mourn, and lament.

In God’s providence our church cannot gather and likely will not gather again until June. We know that this deadly virus and the Governor’s ban are within God’s control. While this distancing is sorrowful, difficult and tragic, God is good and He is kind to His people. He will care for His people in this time. More than that, God can use this to stir something within us. Would you reflect on some things with me?

First, long for that day when we will gather and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. How frequently do we take “going to church” for granted? How often do we skip or go casually, not realizing what a great thing we have been given, until it is taken away from us? According to the Puritans, the Lord’s Day is the market day of the soul. It is a day of rest and gladness. Part of the “rest” is being with believers who strengthen our soul, just by being there.

While the streaming is great, it is not the same as “going to church” and we ought to long for that day when we can truly enjoy it again. Things will not be right until we can gather again.

It is better to acknowledge that something is wrong, even as we enjoy the streaming services. We ought to be thankful for what we get, but always realize that God’s purposes and plans are for more.

Second, make the most of the opportunities you have. When the Jews couldn’t meet in the temple, they met in synagogues. They took what they had available and even thrived in their dispersion. They were spiritually hungry and thirsty and made provisions to satisfy those desires. We must do the same thing. So when you tune in on Sunday, plan to hear from God and grow in the service. A few weeks ago, I suggested that you (and your children) physically plan to be there by being dressed with Bibles in hand, breakfast finished, ready to worship, take notes, learn and grow. How you prepare will affect what you get out of the service. Your habits (like getting dressed up) frame your mind to meet with God. I encourage you to take advantage of that this week as well. Also, this week we plan to make the bulletin easier to print. It may not look as pretty, but it should be easier to print and read.

One more thing. We encourage you to take time with your family or on your own to sing (or listen) to the upcoming hymns for Sunday. Hymns for the Week: All Glory, Laud, and Honor (#235); What a Friend We Have in Jesus (#629). This is something you can do every day through the week, maybe as part of dinner devotions or a morning quiet time.

 Faithfully Yours,
Pastor Sean

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