In the 42nd Psalm, David, the sweet singer of Israel, pens a song of lament. As he writes the Psalm, he is a hunted man, being cut off from God’s house, from the ark, and from all the ordinances of God. And as he wanders in forced exile, David recalls, with painful longing, the joyous experience of seeking the living God together with God’s people: the glad throng, the festive procession, the shouting and singing of praise to God as they approached the dwelling place of God’s glory. This encounter with the Divine Majesty was David’s chief good and his greatest joy. He understood that the presence of the Lord, in the company of God’s people, is better than life itself.
In fact, David’s yearning for God is so intense that he likens his soul to a hunted animal, chased by adversaries to the point of personal extremity, to the point where it must be refreshed or faint in defeat: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
Have you ever found yourself longing for public worship in this way? For the follower of Christ, in this age of the Gospel, the temple of God is the individual believer: “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” We cannot be robbed of the Divine Presence. We cannot be thrust away from God. The glory of God dwells permanently in the ark of our hearts through the redemption applied to us in Christ. Even so, this doesn’t make the public assembly of worship obsolete. For if Paul could say that each individual is God’s temple, he will also write his letters to various churches, centered in various geographically specific assemblies, such as the “church of God that is in Corinth.” For the Apostle Paul knew that the Head—Jesus Christ—is never known apart from His body. We never worship a bodiless Head. It is in the Church, the gathered assembly of God’s people, that we experience “the more excellent way,” the love of Christ that never fails, the love of God that is better than life itself. It is in the gathered body, with its various parts working together, joined and held together by the bond of the Spirit, that we experience the common good of God’s grace and are built up in love and maturity. It is in the Church that we find our full salvation: and so still, like David, we process together with festive shouts, still we join together in a joyous throng, still we gather, each of us carrying within us the glory of Christ, in order to render to God, as Matthew Henry puts it, “our endless hallelujahs,” and to drink from the river whose streams make us glad forevermore.
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God,” writes the Psalmist. God grant to each of us great grace to view the Church like this. God so move in our souls, so stir our hearts with the wind of His Spirit, that we may sense an urgent and desperate longing for God, a pining to be together with God’s people, so that we may truly say, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the House of the Lord.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.