“A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.” (Ecclesiastes 3:5)
Months ago, I bumped into a lady I had gotten to know through a local business which I frequented. She no longer worked there, and it had been awhile since I had seen her. Through our over-the-counter chats, she had shared that her father was up in years and had developed some health problems. It was natural then when I greeted her to ask how her dad was doing. She looked down and sadly said, “Oh he passed away last week due to influenza.” I moved toward her thinking maybe I should perhaps give her a hug in expression of sympathy, when she proceeded to say . . . “and now I think I have it too.” “It”, of course, referenced the flu. I found myself smiling and slowly backing away, continuing to say how sorry I was for her loss while strategizing how I might make a respectfully quick exit. As I reflect on this encounter, I believe how normal my response would have been for many others as well. We gather to do the right thing but find ourselves scattering whenever things don’t seem to be so good.
Gathering and scattering are fairly commonplace. Throughout the history of cultures, we come together to assemble and then return again to our various scattered places. Families and friends gather to recognize holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events. Classmates gather for reunions, and those who have a common interest such as hunting or football often gather to share in rivalry of these activities. I once worked with a lady who frequently talked about her monthly card club with a group of ladies. One day out of curiosity, I asked her what kind of cards they played. She snickered and said – “Oh my, we don’t play cards . . . we just get together to eat and enjoy each other’s company. Contained in God’s Word are regular references to gathering and scattering. We read in the Old Testament that there are times to gather and scatter stones. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, Joshua had them gather stones, stating – “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:6-7). On another occasion, however, Isaiah spoke of the need to scatter stones: “He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines” (Isaiah 5:2).
Evidence of gathering and scattering is prominent in that holiest of weeks before Jesus suffered and died a horrible death on the cross. As Jesus gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room on what Christian tradition has come to refer to as Maundy or Holy Thursday – it was the last time the chosen disciples would be together as ‘the twelve’. “Jesus said, ‘I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God’” (Luke 22:15-16). Then Jesus told them – “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26:31). As He broke bread with them, it was then that Jesus predicted one of His own would betray Him. It came to pass, for “as soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’” And He “left at once” (John 13:27,30).
Even though many of Jesus’ disciples were scattered at the time of His death and resurrection, Jesus gathered the remaining eleven at Galilee. There He commissioned them to scatter ‘and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Having gathered once more, those who followed Christ would now be equipped to do the other half of what they were called to achieve; that is, to scatter. The Church is, therefore, is tasked with this mission: to gather for worship, instruction, and fellowship, but also to find ways to effectively scatter as demonstrated by the early followers. “But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). For you see, my friends – being part of a Christ-centered community not only means knowing about Jesus, but it also means sharing Him as a Living Presence and Personal Savior. It is only when we do this that we will have captured the true meaning of Easter.
REFLECTION: The women who went to Jesus’ tomb were asked “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?” (Luke 24:5). How should Jesus’ resurrection prompt us to not only worship Him at our Easter gatherings but also prepare us as we scatter to serve Him in the days that follow?