Face to Face
Planning for a holiday, my graduation, to look for a job, even a weekend away. Mid-pandemic, these previous certainties suddenly took on the sheen of fantasy. The trust I had in long-term plans seems grandiose now. These days, my dreams are smaller, and held very lightly. I dream about an ordinary Sunday - our first ordinary Sunday back at church after COVID-19.
My church transitioned quickly to this new way of living. Each Sunday, for two months now, we tune into Zoom. You can see small familiar faces in their rooms, singing along – on mute, thankfully – while the musicians play. A fellowship in an exile of sorts, apart but together, mouthing praise to our Lord and each other. I’m filled with the sorrow of our absence and the overwhelming joy of even a fraction of each other’s presence - mixed in together, felt all at once.
I am so thankful for what our church has, but my heart is aching for the day that the doors are thrown open and we can hold each other without fear. To turn around and exclaim at each familiar face seen anew after such a long time away. Microphones will squeal, prayers will be stumbled over, somebody will say the wrong thing, and somebody will say just the right thing. Kids will scream and play- riddled with germs, but finally, we won’t have to worry. Songs swelling with a multitude of voices, standing close together. Like a dream from a previous life.
I long for this not because our church is contained within a building – something we’ve learnt quickly these past months. I long for this because God’s church, his people, will be together, in person at last. In a small way, this time of separation from each other, longing for togetherness, has brought into sharp focus for me that we, as God’s people, are living in a state of longing that will not end once COVID-19 does.
“For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
- 1 CORINTHIANS 13:12
Though I see my friends through the glass screen of my computer, how we meet now is only a small reflection of what it is to know them really. I long for the day when we can see each other face to face. Like this, in this broken world and with my wayward heart, I know my God. He is with me always, but I long for the day when I can know Him fully – face to face, as He has always known me. Eventually, meeting together as a church will be so normal that the regular complaints, pains and resentment that is part of life in community will, undoubtedly, creep in. Something as small and base as ingratitude for the blessings of turning up to Church is the kind of thing that I didn’t know I would miss.
Even so, I have been longing for normal life as if it were the promised land. While in isolation, I have managed on occasion to long for eternity. However, there’s been just as many – if not more times – when I’ve prized my little life here as more important. Life here often feels more present than the life to come. Dwelling on an eternity that seems unknown can sometimes seem like a waste of time when there’s so much life to be living. It pulls my focus with its tangibility.
However, longing for the life to come is urgent, essential work. It conforms us to desire what is truly good. God promises a future that is good not simply because of an absence of a certain disease, but because everything awful, painful, banal and evil about this world will be redeemed. Transformed by grace to how it was always meant to be. Am I really ready for that future? Shame-facedly, I know I’d probably ask for a week or two to finish my university degree if God arrived tomorrow. Lost in my desires, my eyes are often fixed on entirely the wrong horizon; longing for something small when God has given me adoption into eternity. If being a Christian is being one who waits, then this longing for the Kingdom can shape us into being a people whose defining prayer is: “Come Lord Jesus, come”.
Waiting is hard. This longing is a place of limbo: half in, half out. In the world but not of it. The hardest thing about all this, as we all so often say, is the uncertainty. But the reality of just how little we can control even outside of a pandemic is very obvious now. We’ve built up every possible illusion to distract us from our state of helplessness, but so many apparent certainties have been exposed to be riddled with fragility.
I wonder what it would look like for me to stop resisting God’s grace in this situation. To resist the temptation to turn this time of waiting into the self-justifying sort of anxious productivity our world so prizes. Longing is far harder work than filling a day with new hobbies, work or zoom calls. Boredom was an easy hurdle compared to the terrifying challenge to my own identity that this time of isolation has brought. Who are we without the same work or activities, with only a fraction of the human connection we were used to? Can we learn simply to hold on and wait when a vast stretch of terrifying nothing – for days, weeks or months - besets us? Holding on and waiting is the work of a lifetime. Uncertainties will continue, even once life is relatively normal once again. Cultivating a sense of personal control changes nothing about that. Being a people who are holding on to a certain hope changes everything.
I encourage us to run towards the uncertainties of this life, borne up by the Lord who, in grace, has given us the only certainty we need. A verse I have somewhat cynically turned to often in these past months underlines this is no uncertain terms:
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money’. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
– JAMES 4:13-15
I can honestly say that I have never felt more like a mist than in these past months. When I’d read this verse previously, it felt like a prim reminder about semantics – that we should always make sure to say that our activities are beholden to God’s will, even if we are carrying on without considering it at all. But now, I know it to be true. Going anywhere beyond where my legs can carry me is a vast, and recent improvement. No force of my own will can get me to the people that I love who are far away. At least, not without a hefty fine or quarantine. I’m not in control at all, but I never was. If it is God’s will, maybe one day I can jump in on a plane and go where I please. But I hope the lesson will stick. To go anywhere is a gift to me, I who am a mist, moved by forces I cannot control.
I am at God’s mercy. And yet, still in the midst of illness, sadness, and horror, He faithfully cares for me. When COVID-19 is over, I hope that my fickle heart will still know that longing is our work. For us, the Church, waiting is our state - in this time of pandemic, and in this life. Now, in this time, we see Him in part. But His reflection I see, in this mirror of a world, is of one that I can trust in His promise to return. This longing, the work put before us, will end with a meeting. God and his people, face to face. I imagine it to be like spotting a friend in a crowd, a stranger morphing into the familiar all at once. The sweetest face we could ever know, turned so we can see Him at last.
 A prayer, from Revelation 22:20-21
Lucy is a recently graduated Bachelor of Arts student, with majors in English and Philosophy (and some graphic design chucked in there somewhere). Born and bred in the Blue Mountains, she is a now a member of St Barnabas Broadway.