Some of the happiest moments in my life have been spent in church. Some of the dullest too, thanks to a sluggish spiritual frame. But nothing can withstand the sheer love of God shed abroad in our heart by His Spirit.
Those moments are intensely personal and intensely communal: my union with Christ paralleling my union with His church.
How can I explain, but by likening them to the sweet psalmist’s when he exclaimed to the Lord: “you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23: 5-6).
Since March, millions of us around the world have been restricted from going to church because of COVID-19, either because of regional restrictions or because our health and/or our age puts us in a high-risk category.
The last time my husband and I sat in the pews, it was at the evening service. The last rays of twilight cast jeweled light on the congregants. We worshiped: In prayer. In confession. In the statement of faith. In music and song. In the reading of the word. In the proclamation of the gospel. In the sharing of bread and wine in holy communion. In the receiving of the benediction.
It was one of those sacred moments, a time out of time. Union with my God. Union with my church family.
Did my Lord know that it would be our last time in church for many a month? Of course. Did He intend that special “moment” to be a sustained memory and a sure hope? I believe so.
Whenever we listen to our church’s online streaming of Sunday morning service, there is a surreal disconnect at first. But there is also the familiar voice of the under-shepherd of the living God and the familiar songs of praise and thanksgiving as we “who share in a heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1) gather, sustained by faith, memory and hope.
On this Sunday, the first of days, the prayer-hymn that captures that memory and hope for me is a tune sung by Audrey Assad on her album, Fortunate Fall (2013) with lyrics by Henry Hallam Tweedy (1868-1953).
Whether or not we sing it in “the house of the Lord” proper, “O Spirit of the Living God” reminds us that our “heavenly calling” today remains the same as yesterday and tomorrow until Christ Jesus returns. “And we are [Christ’s} house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews: 3: 6).
O Spirit of the living God,
thou light and fire divine,
descend upon thy church once more,
and make it truly thine.
Fill it with love and joy and power,
with righteousness and peace;
till Christ shall dwell in human hearts,
and sin and sorrow cease.
Blow, wind of God! With wisdom blow
until our minds are free
from mists of error, clouds of doubt,
which blind our eyes to thee.
Burn, winged fire! Inspire our lips
with flaming love and zeal,
to preach to all thy great good news,
God’s glorious commonweal.
Teach us to utter living words
of truth which all may hear,
the language all may understand
when love speaks loud and clear;
till every age and race and clime
shall blend their creeds in one,
and earth shall form one family
by whom thy will is done.
So shall we know the power of Christ
who came this world to save;
so shall we rise with him to life
which soars beyond the grave;
and earth shall win true holiness,
which makes thy children whole;
till, perfected by thee, we reach
creation’s glorious goal!