Every parting gives a foretaste of death; every coming together again a foretaste of the resurrection. - Arthur Schopenhauer, German Philosopher
I try not to get in the habit of quoting German philosophers too often. It makes folks think I’m pretentious and that I actually know things. With the internet, anyone can get quotes, even perfectly spot on quotes, and pretend they read them in an old book that can be found by their bedside. This quote was found with a quick google search. And with that ease, I look like I have knowledge of things I know very little about.
This quote is so powerful, though. and encouraging. And quite Biblical. A few friends and I came together two years ago and decided we wanted to start a church in the center of Cincinnati, in the heart of Over the Rhine. It has been a life-giving, encouraging and simultaneously frightening and frustrating process of learning to trust God and others with hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams given by God and called out by friends.
As we’ve been walking this out, we’ve realized how important it is to gather together. One of the major ways the church is lived out, in any context, is through the act of gathering together. This act, which for many in our culture has become rote, trite and stodgy, is an act that our faith hinges on. Whether it happens in an old, beautiful church building, a school auditorium or in someone’s living room, this act is the first ingredient to any community. Obviously. You have to be together, do life together, to create a community. But why gather together as the church?
The writer of Hebrews focuses our attention on this important action. In fact, I would argue that the entire book of Hebrews hinges on the act of the community of faith gathering together.
Hebrews is mostly about Jesus as the final sacrifice. The story of Israel (which means “To Wrestle with God”) is fraught with the people of God finding and losing their way over and over again. It would be comical if we all weren’t right there with them. In order to return, after losing their way, the Jews would make sacrifices of a spotless lamb. We can see today that this act was meant to foreshadow Jesus’ coming, but this wasn’t always so clear. And the writer of Hebrews, who is writing post-resurrection, wants to clarify this for his readers.
Where there was once a physical space called a Sanctuary for all of God’s people to find safety and hope in their acts of repentance, there was now a man - Jesus - who is our sanctuary in the flesh. He was the final sacrifice. And we, through that act, no longer need to consistently return to cleanse ourselves. “It is finished!” As Jesus cried on the cross.
The first 10 chapters of Hebrews is intently focused on making this truth known. Jesus is the fulfillment of every Jewish prophecy. Jesus is the completion of the plan of God for the salvation of all who would come to Him. Jesus is the safe place where Jew and Gentile can lay their burdens down and take on a new identity. Jesus is the King of a New Kingdom that finds all who enter as spotless, blameless and accepted.
God is a storyteller. This story, where Jesus comes and makes things right, is the story above all other stories. It is God’s desire for all to come and experience what it means to belong to this Kingdom (1 Tim. 2:4). This is the story that feeds into all of our individual stories. The beautiful and the broken people who make up our cities.
As we find our hope in Jesus, the ultimate Sanctuary for all who will come to Him, the writer of Hebrews doesn’t just end there. S/he continues in Hebrews 10:23-25...
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Hebrews continues by describing those who have kept the faith, and how their stories can spur us on to keep the faith as well. But the act of keeping the faith hinges on this need to gather together. This need to not neglect getting together, celebrating what God is doing, encourage one another in our struggles, love one another and then go out to the rest of our neighborhood and love on them.
This is one reason we started a church in Over the Rhine. To be a community of passionate followers of Jesus who will go to the missing, love the marginalized and live as God’s kids right where we are. We want to gather together and encourage each other to live that out in tangible ways so as we go back out to our neighborhood, the folks we encounter experience that through each of us individually and collectively.
That Schopenhauer quote is the epitome of what we’re doing as we gather together. We are resurrecting as the body of Christ together again. Disparate parts when we scatter, fully formed when we gather. We’re re-membering (putting ourselves together again) who we are - a family, a kingdom, a body - together, so that as we part, we don’t forget so easily.
We gather together every Sunday at 11am at the Woodward Theater. This gathering isn’t just some show to attend, but is a way to encourage and love each other to go back out and be on mission to bring the Kingdom of God to our neighborhood. We hope you’ll join us as we live this out.