Paradise or Parking Lot?

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In her 1970 hit, Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell was exactly right:

Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
They paved paradise
and put up a parking lot.

For those who love Christ and his church, this aptly describes how we feel amid the continued inability to resume our regular gathering as a congregation. Sure, we are able to have up to fifty people on a Sunday morning, but even if we hit that number, the social distancing feels more like a parking lot than paradise. Please don’t misunderstand: It has been a blessing these past few weeks to see faces (from nose-bridge up) and, for those who have been able to attend, there has been the blessing of seeing one another. But the inability to sing or to fully engage in the elements of corporate worship (congregational prayer, the Lord’s Supper) with every member, well, not quite paradise.

I can’t shake the lyrics, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Especially on Sundays. Especially as I hear of church members who need fellowship. Especially as I am cut off from being present with church members, including the inability to visit church members in hospital in their hour of need. I miss the weekly experience of corporate worship and small group get togethers. When it comes to the body life of BBC, this is anything but paradise.

I’m sure lockdown is a bit of paradise for those who don’t appreciate what it means to be a covenanted member of the local church, including those who view the weekly gathering at 76 Roy Campbell Street as merely a preaching centre. In such cases, livestreaming will suffice. “Potato, tomato.” “Paradise, parking lot.” What’s the difference? But if being cut off from the congregation is paradise for you, then beware. Your Big Yellow Taxi of individualism is perhaps careening towards a spiritual destination that is as lifeless as a paved parking lot.

However, I suspect such members are in the minority. I suspect that, for most, we are beginning to appreciate what we had. I trust we will be better stewards of it when we have it again.

There is no replacement for the biblical local church. With all our faults, our local church remains God’s means for our discipleship. Though lockdown has perhaps provided more opportunity to tune in to our favourite podcasts and sermons from very gifted and well-known pastors and ministries, there is no substitute for the mundane, and sometimes even messy, weekly gathering of the members of the Brackenhurst Baptist Church.

Sure, when we used to gather, there were Sundays when you were probably as frustrated by the poor sermon as the one delivering it. Some Sundays, the singing wasn’t always as grand as the week before. Some Sunday evening prayer meetings seemed lifeless, and what about those Sundays when we didn’t have doughnuts? Talk about paving paradise!

Nevertheless, being together was good for our souls. It was good to hear other voices speaking and singing truth to us—and us to others. It was helpful to steal away into a corner and pour out our heart to another church member, and vice-versa. It was encouraging to be washed by the word, to corporately amen the truth that our sins are forgiven because in Christ we are accepted by the Father. And though we might have been annoyed at times by the small pieces of matzos and the thimble of grape juice, nevertheless the Lord’s Supper prepared us to live another week in remembrance of God’s covenant love for us.

If we are honest, not every corporate gathering has been paradise, but in the light of what we have now, we can surely relate:

Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

One day the doors to “paradise” will reopen. Start preparing now. Pray for the spiritual well-being of each member. Pray for a renewed love for Jesus. And pray that no member will be satisfied with merely a parking lot.

Longing for paradise with you,

Doug