There’s nothing like coming home. Sunday we celebrated our first service back in our church building after being displaced for more than a year. For months this day had been circled on our calendars, and it didn’t disappoint.
Doors opened at 9:00am, and people began flooding into the building. Twenty-eight inches of water in a glass cylinder showed our high water mark from Harvey. The rooms and hallways and alcoves were filled with new furniture, new carpet, new signs, new tech, new materials, new features. Displays in common areas told the story of the past year: a big-screen TV panning through photos from the reconstruction process, a map of the U.S. showing all the churches who gave to help us rebuild, a thank-you station where we could give some small return for the generosity of so many.
Every room bore signs explaining the renovations: walls moved, closets reconfigured, technology added, aesthetics updated, rooms created and repurposed. The children’s areas, for example, were remarkable for their newness: every rug on the floors, every color on the walls, every chair at the tables, every crib in the corners. To be devastated so thoroughly but come back so beautifully was overwhelming to see.
Above it all, massive banners hung in the atrium announcing our new mission statement:
OF JESUS CHRIST
FROM ALL NATIONS
As the 10:00am service approached, I moved through the packed concourse into the renovated “sanctinasium” where we worship. Usually there are loads of empty chairs as people fellowship outside and slide into their seats just as the service starts. But today the house was already packed, music was pumping through the new sound system, a fresh stage design adorned the platform, a slick grey composite court was fresh beneath our feet—newness abounded here as well.
The service was filled with meaning and emotion. No one had to manufacture the moment or manipulate the vibe—we just got to enjoy the overpowering sense of God’s faithfulness. So we sang to the Lion and the Lamb, read about how “your way was through the sea” (Psalm 77:19), heard how “God moves in a mysterious way,” and reminded ourselves that “never once did we ever walk alone.”
Weeks ago I had read Psalm 93, and I didn’t have to read it twice to know it would be our interpretive grid for this weighty morning:
The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!
Through Psalm 93 we celebrated three transcendent realities: (1) the Lord reigns, (2) the Lord reigns over the flood, and (3) the Lord reigns over this house. We closed by singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” interweaving an additional verse that put our story at the center of God’s faithfulness since his faithfulness has been the center of our story:
Tempest and trial and loss without measure
Stormed on the soul and darkened our days.
Still, in Thy faithfulness we found our refuge:
Thou who art over us, with us, always.
We then recited Psalm 136 (“his steadfast love endures forever”) before moving to the concourse to thank Forney Construction for their labors and hand the ribbon-cutting duties to our heroic Building Committee. Looking out from that 20-foot balcony across 600+ people watching a ribbon split in two before their eyes was a bit like watching God make a way for his people through the mighty waters.
We then broke out the food and restarted our joyful conversations as we marveled together at what God has done. The emotional theme of the day was captured by the comments that came up most throughout the morning: “I’m so glad we’re back.” “It’s so good to be home.” “It just feels natural.”
Days like these convince me afresh that one of the greatest apologetics for the Christian faith is belonging. We’re made to belong, to be at home, to experience polyphonic harmony in our families, our friendships, our work, between our bodies and souls, between our convictions and our actions. A worldview that can explain this longing (and satisfy it) will have explanatory power, and those that can’t simply won’t meet the rhythms of the human heart.
The Bible tells the true story of the world, but it’s a brutal story marred by fractures and division. These fractures run into the deepest recesses of the human soul, and plunge into the heart of the planet itself. Separation becomes the deathly norm. Adam and Eve are divided from God, from each other, even from the land. Cain murders his own brother. Humankind splinters into confused and divided people groups at the Tower of Babel. Even Abraham’s calling, salvific in intent, separates his descendants from the surrounding nations. Then Israel, over time, fractures into northern and southern kingdoms, and eventually scatters among the nations herself.
When you separate yourself from God, everything falls apart, immediately or eventually. And we all suffer the myriad effects of our collective sinfulness. Things are always falling apart. You deal with the disintegration in your way and I deal with it in mine, but we’re all just applying our favorite-colored duct tape in our fatigued efforts to hold things together.
But in the incarnation of Christ, God starts bringing things back together in a way that reaches to the depths of our disintegration and division. In Bethlehem, the king of heaven touches down on earth again. In his ministry, he lowers the proud and raises the humble, calling all men no matter their station to the foot of his throne and the foot of his cross.
And it’s there, at the cross, that God deals a final death blow to sin and death. It’s there, at that cross, that the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom, reopening the way to God. It’s there, in that cross, that the reconciliation God offers to humanity is accomplished and put on full display.
Through the preaching of the gospel, all who turn to Christ in faith are made new, and the gift of God’s Spirit is made available to both Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, slave and free. In Christ all who trust him are brought back together in a remarkable unity, and through Christ, at the end of time, all the things that belonged together in God’s design will be put back together once again.
So this past Sunday was not just special because we moved back into a restored building, or because we’re relaunching our church with all the hopes of a freshly restored people. It was special because in the restoration of our physical home and in the happy reunion that ensued, we were celebrating a small foretaste of God’s plan for the ages:
a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.