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I once bought a house without stepping foot inside it.

Our family was moving from Texas to Ontario, and the original deal we had for another house fell through. Our realtor told us about a house that had just come on the market, but we’d have to move fast. So a friend in Ontario ran over to the house and shot some quick video of it to send our way. We bought it.

I stepped foot inside it a month later when I was back in Ontario. It was another couple of months after that when my wife stepped foot inside. After months of looking at pictures and videos, that first step felt the same for both of us: “This, at last, is the real thing!”

There is a world of difference between seeing a house on video and actually walking around it yourself. One is a taste; the other is the real thing. One excites you but leaves you frustrated and wanting more. The other excites you and feels real and whole.

Last Sunday, our church had the same experience: “This, at last, is the real thing!”

15 Months of Waiting

15 months. That’s how long we’d waited.

Sure, we’d had livestream services. And we’d done all we could to help them feel as much like the actual gathering as possible. But those were a bit like looking at the realtor photos of the house you bought.

We’d also had multiple services. Some with a 10-person limit, some at 15% or 30% capacity. But as sweet as those services were, they fell short. Only a slice of our church was present, and we had to rush people out of the building. It was exciting, but it left us frustrated and wanting more.

Then, last Sunday, we all met together outdoors. One family. And we were, at last, Maple Avenue Baptist Church again.

You see, Maple Avenue is not a production. It is a gathering.

And on Sunday, the family was again together. “This, at last, is the real thing!” There were parts of the service itself that were wonderful: the whole church singing together, unmasked; celebrating the Lord’s Table as one family; little hands busy with sidewalk chalk while parents listened in on the sermon.

But the sweetest parts were what preceded and followed the formal service. Little kids squealing with delight as they ran around, playing with one another. The Candy Man handing out lollipops again. People praying for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, and reconnecting after so much time apart. Older people talking with younger people, newer families connecting with long-time members, and people with a variety of COVID perspectives all graciously bending toward one another because we know our deeper unity is in Christ. This is what caused my heart to soar!

Not a Production, but a Gathering

We can come close to replicating on video the formal aspects of our service. But we are not a production. We are a gathering. And it was the gathering itself that proved the sweetest.

For 15 months, we’d been looking at pictures or watching video of our new house. Last Sunday, we stepped foot in it. The foretaste became a reality.

We are a gathering. And it was the gathering itself that proved the sweetest.

And that reminded me of something even deeper. The family reunion we experienced last Sunday was itself designed by God to be a mere foretaste of something better that awaits.

One day, Jesus will return. And the entire family of God from across the ages will assemble together. That reunion will have people from every tribe, tongue, and language. And whatever joy and kinship we felt last Sunday will pale in comparison. On that day, all God’s people will say, “This, at last, is the real thing!”

In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with what we got to do last Sunday.