I miss my church. The members of our congregation still exchange texts, see each other’s faces over Zoom, and lift one another up in prayer. Some of us are even able to gather on Sundays—masked and distanced around two different rooms—but many are not. Those in the church building notice beloved saints’ habitual seats sitting empty; those in front of the livestream wish they could fill them.
Whether in-person or at home, we each miss hearty congregational singing, greeting one another with hugs and handshakes, and post-worship conversations that reveal our hearts and encourage our holiness. Church in a pandemic just doesn’t feel the same.
During these unusual days, I regularly turn to one of the Bible’s stranger books: Revelation. In the opening chapter, the apostle John describes his own unprecedented situation. To quarantined Christians, it will sound a little familiar: “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos” (Rev. 1:9).
These words, and the rest of John’s heavenly vision, give me three reasons for hope when I’m missing church:
1. In exile, we may feel isolated, but we are not alone.
John identifies himself as a “brother” and “partner” in tribulation (Rev. 1:9). He was physically separated from the church—sentenced to exile on a remote island—but he affirmed his fundamental connection to God’s people. Writing to churches who were also scattered and oppressed, John reminded them that they were all united “in the patient endurance that [is] in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9).
Take heart. You may be locked down, but you are not alone. Christ remembers your isolation. He speaks to you by his word, he dwells in you by his Spirit, and he joins you to his people whether you are physically together or apart.
You may be locked down, but you are not alone.
2. In exile, worship is still our priority.
In the cartoons, island exiles often busy themselves scratching a daily tally on the trunk of the nearest palm tree. But John’s existence on Patmos was not spent merely marking time. Instead, he writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). Banished to a remote island, John still made worship his highest priority. He couldn’t be at church, but he could still make the church’s calling his own.
In a pandemic, it may be hard to remember what day it is, but worship is still our greatest privilege. Like John, we are not just marking time until our exile is over; we redeem our days—and especially the Lord’s Day—in worship.
3. In exile, we cling to the hope of heaven.
As John worshiped, the Lord gave him hope. The rest of Revelation is a vision of the fulfillment of all things—of Jesus revealed in glory and God’s people finally and completely gathered. It was meant to strengthen John’s heart and the heart of the churches. It’s meant to strengthen our hearts too.
In the midst of this revelation, Christ spoke tenderly to John. From his throne in heaven, the Lord said three words: “Come up here” (Rev. 4:1). Come, John. Come and join the heavenly worship.
By ourselves—in our homes or scattered around a cavernous church building—we may feel like we are worshiping in isolation, but we are not. Every week, our earthly worship joins the saints and angels in heavenly worship (see Heb. 12:22–24). We also look forward to that day when we will be physically gathered with “the great multitude that no one could number” (Rev. 7:9). As we endure exile today, we meditate with hope on the church’s glorious future.
Brother, sister, hear the voice of Jesus calling you: “Come up here.”