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Empty Chairs

Cinemas, Stadiums, and Sanctuaries

On Monday, March 16th, my wife and I went to our local Regal Cinema to watch the new movie Onward. I was eager to see it, because I love Pixar movies and was concerned the theaters might close soon due to the COVID-19 crisis. Sure enough, by the following afternoon, major theater chains like AMC and Regal announced that they were closing immediately. The cinemas will be dark for a while.

This situation got me thinking about how our culture enjoys communal experiences. Even with the technologies we have at home, we still desire to leave our house to witness events in person. I am an introvert who loves his quiet time alone at home, but I still desire shared experiences. Regardless of how nice my 50-inch 4K TV is, I prefer to see films in a large theater with strangers. Even though sports are easier and cheaper to watch on a screen, I still long to sit in the stands and cheer with other fans. No matter how good my stereo is, it can’t compare to being at a live concert and feeling the bass in my stomach. Something in us longs to be in a crowd of people enjoying the same thing at the same time.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a time when the “crowd” is essentially illegal. There are no theaters, concerts, or sports events to attend. We’re stuck at home clicking through whatever streaming services we subscribe to, looking for something to captivate us. And though we can catch up on some classic movies or shows we’ve missed, it’s just not the same as seeing the new James Bond or Wonder Woman flick on opening night. Our microwave popcorn just doesn’t smell as good as the $7 bucket you can get at the movie theater. The NBA playoffs should have been starting this month, but instead the sports pundits are arguing about how great Michael Jordan was. TV channels are even replaying old sporting events, but I don’t really want to watch the Falcons lose Super Bowl LI again. 

So where’s the good in all this? We are starving for entertainment and escape, but I think we are starving for community even more. The fact that sitting on our secluded couches is unsatisfying ought to tell us something about ourselves. “It is not good for man to be alone,” Genesis 2:18 says. Yes, this passage is mainly about marriage, but I think there is a broader truth there. Man is not meant to be independent. Regardless of our marital status or family size, we are all meant to live in communion. This truth is evident in Christ’s church. The idea we are supposed to have a “personal relationship with Jesus” sounds nice, and it is true in a sense. But it’s incomplete. We are called into a relationship with Christ, but, as He calls us to Himself, we are brought into His family and join millions of brothers and sisters in His church. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. Our final heavenly home will not be an isolated country house; it will be in a crowded city (Hebrews 11, Revelation 21).

In addition to cinemas and stadiums, our local church sanctuaries are also closed. We can’t gather. We can’t sing praises in harmony. We can’t eat the Lord’s Supper together. Sermons are recorded for video or podcasts. Communing with the saints is restricted at this time. It’s sad. But I hope that this current distress helps us not to take our church families for granted. I hope absence really does make our hearts grow fonder. Let’s be eager to greet our spiritual siblings with love. Let’s long for our pastors’ voices preaching into our souls in person. Let’s look with anticipation to when we can come together again and worship our creator and savior. 

The hymn “In Christ Alone” says, “Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again”. On Easter, we weren’t able to sing these words in unison. Our sanctuaries were empty, but so is the tomb.

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