Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Longing – Letters to a Church Displaced

The Scottish pastor of the 17th Century, Samuel Rutherford, when cut off from the congregation he loved, wrote letters to some of his congregants. It’s what he could do and so it is what he did.

The ministry of the Apostle Paul often took him away from the churches he loved and who loved him. Even when he was imprisoned, to stay in touch with these churches, he did what he could do. He wrote them letters.

I am no Rutherford and certainly no Paul. But when I realized that the church I pastor was not going to be able to do what churches do – meet – for an unknown period of time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I understood their impulse. I have attempted to pastor with letters.

The response has been surprisingly positive, and suggests that others might find value in the more general reflections contained in these letters. Our current “imprisonment” is global, not local. I can therefore hope that the perspectives brought through the excerpts I will post might be of some encouragement to a broader audience.


We often read Psalm 42 as a lament born of a depressive spirit.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?”

Psalm 42:5 and 11

It is that, of course. But in his sorrowful state, what does the psalmist long for? Clearly he longs for God.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.

Psalm 42:1, 2

Specifically, he longs for God as God is present among his gathered people. He longs to appear before God with “the multitude keeping festival.” (42:4) That is, he longs for public, corporate worship.

We are living in an extraordinarily difficult time during which your longing for public, corporate worship will deepen. We never quite know what we have until it is taken from us, and this has been taken from us. We long for its restoration, and when it is restored that which we may have at one time taken for granted will be richer. We meet God in the gathered worship of the church. Virtual worship can only approximate that. We will pant and thirst for God and find him when we once again are able to join the multitude. Pray that this might come quickly.

As we pray that we might soon be reunited, may I suggest a prayer for this moment in time? Barb and I discovered this prayer last Sunday morning during our prayer time together. It is the prayer for the Third Sunday in Lent from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. As you pray it, you will see its applicability to this time.

“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church

Yours in the mercy of Christ,

Randy

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3 Comments

  1. Carol Arnold

    Yes!
    Sometimes the written word, “spoken” from the heart, is more powerful than the spoken words from the lips. Starting with the tablets of stone, scrolls and epistles, and now emails . . . God can and does communicate to us through those who write.
    Thank you.

  2. Nina Morway

    There will be a grand HALLELUJAH when we gather again. Even I will clap and raise my hands, tears of joy and gratitude running down my face, for the blessing of being with the Body of Christ.

    Your letters bless me.

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