Others of us attended a church service only on very special occasions, maybe only two times a year—typically Christmas and Easter. Yet others of us grew up in homes where church services were never attended, even if we believed in God and practiced Christian values. I fell into the latter category. I had many friends who went to church, but as a child I did not attend because my parents and most of my relatives did not.
However, at age 13, I discovered the World Tomorrow radio program on CFQC Saskatoon in Canada and began to listen to it regularly. Soon I subscribed to The Plain Truth magazine and the Bible Correspondence Course along with many, many booklets. By the age of 16 I started to observe the weekly Sabbath and did so by myself because there was no one else to keep it with. I remember how meaningful it was, even as a teenager, to cease personal pursuits for 24 hours and instead focus on spiritual perspectives and values. The experience was profound and it remains that way to this day.
Holy time was an amazing discovery and experience. However, after keeping the day by oneself week after week, month after month, year after year, a person comes to realize that something is missing. In a way, it was comparable to Adam, who felt lonely because “there was not found a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:20). Adam needed a companion similar to him. He needed another person like himself to share life with. Similarly, I craved to meet a fellow believer who was also convicted to rest and worship on the Saturday Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath as a solitary individual was wonderful in its own way, but after a while it became clear that something was lacking—notably, fellowship and assembly.
Eventually I wrote for a visit and was met by Dean Wilson in the summer of 1965 during one of his cross-country baptizing tours. As a result, I was put in touch with a family in Saskatoon and was able to travel there to meet them and keep the Sabbath day with them. It was thrilling to meet a family that practiced the same beliefs and exercised the same values as I did. While there was no congregation, there was another family who had similarly been called. I was delighted to eventually be introduced to them. A local congregation was established soon afterwards and it was a thrill to meet with them a few times before heading to Ambassador College in the late summer of 1966.
In 1 Corinthians 7:26 the apostle Paul spoke of “the present distress;” this may have been persecution or perhaps some other type of distress. Today, we too have been facing a kind of “present distress” due to the ravages of the coronavirus which has affected virtually every nation on earth. Everyone has been impacted in ways that most never expected and to the degree and extent that most, even experts, never fully envisioned.
One of the restrictions we have had to face is not being allowed to assemble on the Sabbath and Holy Days. In Hebrews 10:25, Christians were admonished to not forsake the assembling of themselves together as was the manner of some, but instead to exhort one another—and so much the more as they see the Day approaching. These instructions take on new meaning in times of duress.
Being able to stay home on the Sabbath and truly rest wears thin fairly quickly. Before long, a person realizes that something vitally important is missing. Most of us have had the huge blessing of going online to watch an archived Church service or being able to watch a live webcast from the home office week after week. But it is not the same as traveling to a local congregation and meeting fellow believers face-to-face, singing hymns together in person, participating in the worship service together and then staying after the Church service to break bread with one another and enjoy sustained fellowship.
Social isolation has been a key part in fighting the coronavirus and it has unintentionally created a new normal. Work, education and commerce have been undertaken remotely for quite some time and with remarkable levels of success. Some experts predict that this will be adhered to extensively after the virus has passed.
Working from home and worshiping from home may be more convenient, but as one expert pointed out, it doesn’t allow people to develop a sense of culture with one another.
This can only happen when we spend time with one another.
Too often I take my good health for granted. It is only when I become sick, which from time to time I do, that I reflect and say to myself, “After I get well again, I will not take my good health for granted.” The ability to assemble with fellow believers is a huge blessing which we can also too easily take for granted. Only after deprivation can we assemble again with renewed joy, exuberance and appreciation.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this should be especially true for the Christian heart.