I don't tend to look back very often - unless it's to learn from the past so that I can move more effectively into the future. When our county was put into lockdown in mid-March due to COVID-19, I began to wonder what the future would look like. While many people were expressing an understandable fear and desire to just get back to normal, I was generally thinking about the opportunities something like coronavirus afforded. I was just as frustrated as the rest, but I didn't want to feel like I had wasted my time just sitting around and being angry about things I couldn't control. I couldn't help but feel like we were being given a chance to pause, re-assess what was more important, and then work to re-focus our time and energy into something better.
I recently read Ezekiel 46:9, a verse that is easy to blow right past but stopped me dead in my tracks...
...when the people come in through the north gateway to worship the LORD during the religious festivals, they must leave by the south gateway. And those who entered through the south gateway must leave by the north gateway. They must never leave by the same gateway they came in, but must always use the opposite gateway.
What's happening here?
Ezekiel is being taken on a tour of the re-built Jerusalem and temple mount - he's been given a vision of Israel's restoration following the Babylonian Captivity. In this particular verse, Ezekiel is being given instructions on how temple worship is supposed to work: the people come in one way, and leave a different way.
Back in Exodus when God met Israel at Mt Sinai, he gave them strict instructions never to go back to Egypt. He had brought them out of Egypt, he had freed them from slavery, and they were never to return - not for any reason. To go back to Egypt was a bit like rejecting what God was offering.
Then in Jeremiah a group of Israelites tried to convince the prophet to escape with them to Egypt. He refused because of the warning God gave at Sinai. In an attempt at finding safety and avoiding the Babylonia army, the group went to Egypt anyway. God killed them. He told them not to go back...
And now in Ezekiel's vision the people are told quite clearly, "You are not to go back the way you came."
The gospel changes everything. The expectation is that when the gospel grabs ahold of us, Paul says our old selves die and we are raise to a completely new/different life. When the people got to "church" (temple), God expects that they leave changed. The old is behind them and are not to go back!
What would be like if we came back to church expecting to be transformed while we were there? We're all creatures of habit who probably leave the church building by the same doors we enter. What if made a conscious decision to leave a different way? As a symbolic gesture that we are leaving as changed people? What if you were actually required to exit from different doors? How would that change your expectations going into worship? How would that change your attitude and experience of the 75 minutes or so, that we typically spend together?