When we assemble, God loves us.
I sense an immediate danger in that statement. It could potentially mean that God loves us only when we assemble or that God loves us because we assemble. I mean neither. Rather, I mean that when we assemble, God is actively engaged with us during the assembly by loving on us.
Too often God is regarded as passive in our assemblies as if God merely sits on the throne to receive our praise. This can even degenerate into an egotistical conception of God who says something like, “I am God, give me praise, this is why I created you and if you don’t worship me, I’ll zap you.” It can reduce God to an Ego that needs stroking and approval.
Even if our sense of divine passivity does not degnerate into an egoism, it can reduce God to mere audience or, worse, a mere spectator. When we think that all that happens in our assemblies is that we love each other, then we put God in the place of a spectator. When we think that our assemblies are only about what we do for God, then God becomes a passive audience. God’s role in the assembly, however, is much more significant than spectator or audience.
The greatest commandments–to love God and love our neighbor–are rooted in the reality of God’s active love for us. When we love our neighbor, God loves our neighbor through us. When we love God, it is only because he has first loved us. That God loves us is the ground of all our response to God, especially the first two commandments.
Consequently, the first question we should ask about our assemblies is not what do we do for each other or what do we do for God but rather what does God do for us in the assembly? Answer: God loves us. God is an active participant in the assembly rather than a mere spectator or mere audience.
But what does it mean for God to love us, or to love on us, in the assembly? What does it mean for God to be active in the assembly of the gathered people of God?
- It means God delights in us and rejoices over us. Zephaniah even describes this as singing over us (3:17). God celebrates our relationship with him.
- It means that God rests among his people as God draws near to us and dwells among us. The biblical-theological notion of “divine resting” is extremely signifcant. Resting is not about recovering from fatigue, but about enjoying what God has created through communing with the creation. “God rests” means “God tastes the sweet fellowship of his people.”
- It means that God honors, blesses and glorifies his people. God praises his people, as Zepaniah 3:20 says. I love the image about which Max Lucado writes in one of his book’s titles that God applauds his people. Psalm 118 imagines a moment when we hear the applause of heaven when we enter the gates: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
- It means God’s presence is transformational and sanctifying. Communal assembling is sanctifying event–God is at work among us to conform us to the image of Christ. God forgives and renews through assembly.
- It means that God is graciously present and lifted us up into his heavenly city, Mt. Zion, the city of the living God (Hebrews 12:22-24). There we join the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) of the angels and the saints gathered around the throne of God.
More could be said–let your mind race through the many ways and forms in which God loves on us during an assembly, even through other people.
It all ties together–all three dimensions of the assembly. God loves us when we are loved by others, and we love God when we love others, and we love others when we love God in praise and prayer.
When we assemble, we love God, we love others and God loves us. Its actually fairly simple and why would we not want to be part of that? I love to assemble with others and there I love and am loved.