That’s right. I would open my eyes during prayers. Not just any prayers, but the prayers said during church services in the main auditorium. That despite having been taught in Sunday School that it was a rule (if not a commandment) that you had to bow your head and close your eyes during prayers.
But I had a good reason. I wasn’t opening my eyes to look at other people or even to see the person praying. I wanted to see Jesus.
I assumed that when we all closed our eyes and bowed our heads, Jesus would come in and listen to the prayer. Maybe, just maybe, I could sneak a peek of him before he realized I was looking.
My older self is a bit envious of that child. Not that I want a childish faith that expects to see Jesus sitting in the rafters. But I’d like to recapture the childlike faith that confidently expects the Lord to be present in our assemblies.
I know intellectually that “God with us” isn’t just the translation of the name of some kid in the book of Isaiah. I also know it’s more than what happened when Mary had a baby in Bethlehem.
I can quote the verse from Matthew 18. You know the one:
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Yet even then, my rational self wants to tie that to a specific context (church discipline) or a specific time frame (apostolic era) or a purely figurative way of speaking. It’s can’t be that Jesus really comes to be among us when we assemble.
But isn’t that one of the great lessons that the gospel writers want to show us, especially Matthew in his gospel? Isn’t that the real meaning behind “God with us”? Not that God was with his people in days of old. Not just that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But that promise from the end of Matthew: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
When we come together as a body, Jesus is among us. We need to see that. We need to feel that. We need to believe that.
When Paul was writing to the Corinthian church about the need to discipline one of their members, he begins his instructions by saying:
“When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present…” (1 Corinthians 5:4)
God with us. Us. When we come together. I know that we are temples of the Spirit, and God lives in us. There is a very real sense in which God is with us all the time. But there’s a special meaning to the assembly, a special reality that tells us that God is with us. The power of the Lord is in our midst.
It’s hard to see past what our physical senses take in. We see worn out pews and faded carpet. We hear off-key singing and crying babies. We get too hot or too cold, depending on how well the heating/AC is working. We touch and taste the Lord’s Supper, knowing that it’s really crackers and grape juice, not the body and blood of Jesus.
And yet… God is with us. These physical things merely distract from the spiritual reality that God is in our midst. Or, if we let them, they come together to remind us that there is a Creator behind these physical realities, and that Creator is with us. He is present.
I don’t want to go back to looking for Jesus somewhere up near the ceiling. But I do want to recapture that assurance that he will be there when the church meets. He will be among us.
God will be with us.