We enter the season of gathering. There will be many gatherings, plural. Families, friends, organizations, clubs, co-workers. … We’ll have those gatherings at the Seminary just as you will in your place, but now I’m commenting on the singular gathering as a principle of life together.
Our western culture deceives us into hearing “you” in the Bible as singular, me and Jesus, when in fact most of the time “you” in the Bible is plural, members together in the Body of Christ. The church “is the assembly of believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel” (Augsburg Confession VII). “Holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd’” (Smalcald Articles, 12, alluding to John 10:3). The principle of gathering is what we do in special services for Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas, and indeed in every worship service and — this is especially important in our post-churched times — whenever believers gather together formally or informally.
Christian gathering should be qualitatively different from all other associations in today’s society. Pauline scholar John Barclay writes the following:
The goal of Paul’s mission is the formation of communities whose distinct patterns of life bear witness to an event that has broken with normal criteria of worth. Paul expects baptism to create new life-orientations, including forms of bodily habitus that express the reality of the life of the resurrection in the midst of human mortality. The gift requires to be realized in unconventional practice or it ceases to have meaning as an incongruous gift. It creates new modes of obedience to God, which arise from the gift as “return” to God, but without instrumental purpose in eliciting further gifts. (John M.G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift, 569)
Gathering, simply gathering, is a new insight to this work-oriented boomer. As I age, I’m starting to get it, and among my teachers are our seminarians, late Gen Xers and millennials. In countless ways, they nurture one another and look forward to the mission through gathering.
What will heaven be but our final gathering with our Creator and Redeemer? On campus we are mourning the death of Professor Kou Seying. Through his intense struggle against cancer, he kept a confident faith in Jesus that witnessed to us and showed why we are passionate for all peoples to learn about Jesus. How we pray for the final gathering!
“Gather Thou Thy people in, / Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, / In Thy garner to abide:
Come with all Thine angels, come, / Raise the glorious harvest home.”
Dr. Dale A. Meyer, President
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis