By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. Psalm 137:1
Twenty-five hundred years ago, when Israel was in captivity in Babylon, the people longed to return to what they remembered and to carry on with their way of life. They lamented that they could not even sing songs of Zion as they were so grief stricken. Oh, to be able to return to Jerusalem and worship God in the temple on Mount Zion. All would be right with the world when that day came.
However, all was not right with the world when that day came. First of all, the return happened in stages over a course of years. Once they were back in Jerusalem, they could not worship in the temple in the way they had longed for all those years, for it had been destroyed by those who had exiled them in the first place. That which they pined for had greatly changed. In the end, the temple was rebuilt however the people of God came to understand that their character and identity came from their relationship with the Living God, not the house they thought he dwelt in. They came to recognize that God had been with them in captivity, apart from the temple.
We seem to be in something of an exile now, a kind of COVID-19 captivity. At eleven weeks, many of us are growing weary and are longing to be able to return to life as we knew it, and Church as we knew it. We might even think we can appreciate the plight of the captives of the Babylonian Exile but in reality, our experience is a drop in the bucket compared to theirs. While we are approaching three months being away from the place we long to be able to worship God from, the Babylonian Exile lasted 70 years.
While we look forward to that day when we will be able to return to St. Luke’s for worship, we do not know when that will be. When we do return, things will be different. It is possible that years could pass before it will be safe to return to the kind of worship we remember from just a couple months ago. We might be able to return to the space in coming weeks or months, but we will not be able to do things the way we are used to… but that’s OK.
It’s OK because, like those captives of Babylon so long ago, we know that our God is still with us. In this COVID-19 captivity, God has never left our side and our worship continues in new and innovative ways. We have even learned a thing or two about how to include people in our worship who could not participate with us prior to 11 weeks ago. We have learned that not only can our community be sustained in less than ideal circumstances, it can thrive and grow. Just like those captives, we have been presented with an opportunity to appreciate what it is that shapes our identity and character. While St. Luke’s is a beautiful space in which to worship, it is not what defines us. Our true character is defined by our relationship with the Living God who is just as surely with us in our exile as we remember him being in our beautiful church building.