Saturday, June 21, 2008

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am with you always, until the age.” This is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Christ is always present to us, so what does it mean to say, where two or three are gathered in his name, he is in our midst? Why do we gather? Why do we come together on Sunday? Why do we gather in prayer groups? Why can it not just be about God and me? What does it mean to be Church?

Of course, Christ is always present to us, no matter what. We gather together because we believe in the sacramental presence of God, the presence of God made tangible and manifest through the created world. That presence is felt in the bread and wine that becomes the body and blood. That presence is felt in the oil that anoints or the words of the priest that assure us of forgiveness. That presence is felt in the vows of love that are exchanged between a man and a woman making a lifetime commitment to one another. And that presence is felt when two or three gather in his name.

Our relationship with God is like a relationship with another human being. Like any good marriage, there is a need to just spend time alone with God, to come to know God in a very intimate, personal way. But also like marriage, this relationship with God is not meant to turn you in on yourself, but should foster in you a desire and willingness to go out to others, to be more loving and active in the world. The love that you experience in that personal, intimate relationship, is meant to make you more compassionate, more aware of the needs of others. It is a love that is not selfish and self-absorbed, but one into which you bring others, it is a love of hospitality. And just as in a marriage there are times you struggle in your relationship, there are also times we struggle in our relationship with God. At those moments we need the support of friends who will encourage us and give us hope. We need those who will help us believe when we seem to have lost the ability to believe. We need the assurance that we are not alone, no matter what happens.

We gather together in his name because doing so holds an incredible power. In the actual passage from Matthew, the same Gospel in which Jesus assures us he is with us always, Jesus tells us:
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Mt. 18:19-20)
Maintaining belief, maintaining trust in God is not always easy. We gather together to support each other, to strengthen our belief, to share our joys and out sorrows, and to pray for and with one another. In doing so, Christ is in our midst. Sometimes we are the ones who need that tangible, sacramental presence of God that we experience in the love and concern of another. Sometimes that other person says exactly the words that we need to hear at that moment, and we know that God is present. But we can also not ever forget that sometimes we are gathered with others in prayer or at Church, because we are being called to be that sacramental presence of God to another, because someone else needs to hear something we will say or just needs someone to listen. Sometimes being with others is not about what we get, but what we will give, and the blessing of this is that in those graced moments, we too feel and know that God is present, that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us.

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