Gathered in my Name

The Rev. Dani Gabriel

Sermon, September 6th, 2020


Gathered in my Name

I love Sundays. My old habit was to wake up early and walk to church in the morning chill. I’d get to St. Alban’s at least an hour before the service. I’d let myself in and I could hear Fred in the Parish Hall getting ready for coffee hour but otherwise nobody else was in the building. Usually the hallway would be dark. I’d open the sacristy and get a chill, it’s always colder in there for some reason. I’d place my sermon on the lectern, corners folded, and check the Gospel book and the altar book. I’d make sure the bulletins were out and I’d often mess with something the Altar Guild would prefer that I didn’t. I’d go back and put on my alb and listen to people arrive in the sanctuary. One by one, each voice I knew, settling into the pews. And then Richard would begin to play and whoever was serving would join me in the sacristy. We would pray together, and that always marked the real start of the service for me.

This passage is all about the collective nature of our lives as Christians. It refers to the church, one of only 2 times the word appears in the Gospels, the body that has changed greatly over time but seeks still, in ways the disciples couldn’t have imagined, to follow Christ. This passage is about how we are to manage those relationships with great care, and at the heart of it it’s also about how relationship is significant to God. Relationships are how we know God, and relationships are where God meets us.

We quote this passage all the time, but what does “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” mean right now?

I can’t listen to you all arrive, or get an early cup of coffee from Fred. There’s no altar party to pray with. The peace at St. Alban’s was legendary, it was one of the highlights of church for me. I’ve never seen anything like it. Every single person shaking hands with or hugging every other person, the news of the week being shared, and such boisterous joy. I remember having to shout to regain everyone’s attention. But no more. We can’t congregate in the sanctuary, and a handshake or a hug would be a total impossibility if we could. Our lives have changed. Our life as a church has changed. It’s been six long months. I don’t know how it feels to you, but to me it feels like years.

My new routine is different. I’m still up early but there’s nowhere to go. I bring my coffee with me to church. I’m still always early, to check in with Becky before the service starts. There’s often some issue with Zoom. Then one by one names and faces appear until the screen is full. I still find Zoom overwhelming, I can’t always focus. But I do hear those familiar voices, and then seemingly from a million miles and a million years away, Richard plays the prelude.

It is both a radical departure, and the same St. Alban’s that has been a comfort and a joy to our community for so many years.

At the beginning of the pandemic I questioned whether we could even be gathered over the internet. Like, would it count? Would Jesus show up? It sounds a little silly but I honestly wasn’t sure. I was nervous that we would cease to be the Body of Christ if we couldn’t physically gather as a body. I am embarrassed now that my idea of the Holy was so small that I doubted.

We have had our share of mishaps. Some Sundays the hymns won’t play right, the wrong person speaks at the wrong time, someone neglects to mute themselves. But the Gospel is always the Gospel. It always carries Good News for the poor and the oppressed, which has only become more relevant in recent weeks. And that is what brings us together and makes us who we are as Christians, this message of hope for the hopeless, in all times and places, even this one.

If I were a little more clever I would create a Zoom account for Jesus, so we could see Him arrive in our midst, maybe I’d even add a picture. But He is surely here where we are gathered, just as if he had his own little rectangle on the screen. He’s here in our commitment to keep showing up, to keep being church, to keep being active in our church community and our community at large as voices and labor for justice and for service.

Let’s continue to care for our relationships, to notice who’s not here, and to build the beloved community in new ways. None of us thought we’d be here a year ago. There’s no telling where we’ll be a year from now. But I believe we will still continue to gather in some format, and that Christ will be present wherever and however that is, and that it will be nothing short of miraculous.