“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Often spoken at the beginning of prayers, this passage from Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that our God is truly with us. Emmanuel he is called. More than a sentiment, more than wishful thinking, when we gather for prayer, God is truly with us.
But how? And why?
Often, I think we imagine this passage as a designation of the criteria necessary for Jesus to show up, as if he were saying, “I’ll be there if you get a few people together.” Once the requisite number is gathered, then Jesus will also come. But what if he meant something else by this? What if what he was trying to tell us was that, since Christ dwells in us and gives us life, when we gather together Christ is with us simply by virtue of us being together? In other words, since together we form the body of Christ, then when we gather, for any reason, Christ is with us in one another.
I think this is a critically important part of our faith. As much as we might see a transcendent experience with God in silent prayer or liturgical action, a direct encounter with God in Godself from on high, we must never forget that God is also present to us in the immanent. We experience God when we sit down for dinner, when we encounter a stranger, when we fight with our spouse, when we work with colleagues, and even when we shed a tear with a friend. When two or three are gathered, no matter the circumstance or purpose, Christ is with us.
What an amazing joy! When believing in a God that is neither visible nor physical, when we often find transcendent experiences of God far and few between, knowing that God is still among us is critical to maintaining our faith. In fact, some might even say it is essential to finding it in the first place. As much as we use words like relationship, sacrifice, love, devotion, patience, and forgiveness in reference to God, how could we ever use them in reference to God in any meaningful way had we not experienced and lived these words in our earthly relationships?
For me, it’s a reminder that God is present to us always—not just in our prayer, and maybe not even initially in our prayer—but rather through every encounter we have each and every day. It is our relationships with our friends and family, how we treat the people around us and show them love, that we find the very understanding of these concepts in the first place to know how to relate to God.
This Lent, we are called to share our lives with others. We are called to be in relationship, to give love, to offer sacrifice, to be patient, and to build community—not because we need new friends or something to do—but because it is in our being together that we make God present in the world and show the world what the love of God truly means.