I’ve been keeping an eye on the trends in big group gatherings around the United States and across the world. Right now, people in the entertainment industry, travel industry, professional sports and many other industries are all asking what it will look like when large groups of people start to gather together again.
Almost every industry in the world continues to be affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Corporations are rethinking the way that office buildings will look in the future. Houses of worship are considering what it will take to conduct services again post COVID-19. Schools are becoming ground zero for the debate on meeting together again.
Many people are still unwilling to take the personal risk of gathering together again in large groups. There are still many unknown answers about the COVID-19 virus and how large group gatherings might affect our personal health in the future.
After the recent uptick in cases connected with the Beijing market, many people across the world are starting to realize that the safety precautions don’t exist which can completely eliminate the possibility of transmitting the virus.
Therefore, most people feel like they’re left with only two options: stay at home until a vaccine is proven and available to the public, or take some degree of health risk when venturing into large group settings.
This short article is to help you have an idea of what it will look like when we leave our homes after social distancing and have our first large group gatherings again. (For those of you who are interested, I’m going to provide a lot of footnotes in this article. Feel free to do your own research at your leisure.)
While healthcare experts are researching the virus transmission and sociologists are studying human interactions in a global pandemic, I have also. However, my research has been based on a historical event that happened almost 2,500 years ago and was recorded in the Bible book of Nehemiah.
Mourning over the past
The Bible records events from many years ago which are still relevant to us today. This is especially true of an event that’s described in Nehemiah 8:1-9. In this passage, a large crowd of God’s people come together after a 141-year period of forced social distancing.
This passage demonstrates what happens in the heart of people after they reunite with each other again. I find it fascinating that one of the first things recorded when social distancing is lifted is a collective grief over the past.
Nehemiah 7 records that more than 50,000 people gathered together again for the first time in generations when the Jerusalem walls were completed. When this massive crowd met together for a large corporate worship experience, there was an overwhelming sense of mourning over the separation and the lost years.
Perhaps you’re struggling with the same sense of mourning. Maybe you really miss the ability to hang out with friends at your favorite restaurant or coffee shop. I’m sure you’re longing for the opportunity to go to a baseball game or gather with friends at the end of a long work week.
The collective pain that Nehemiah 8 describes is exactly what people all over the world are experiencing today. Therefore, we have a good example of the emotions that we’ll experience when we are able to meet back together again in person. If you’re struggling with having stayed home for the past several months and you’re longing to gather together again in person, you are living out the same emotions described for us in Nehemiah 8.
Excitement about the future
It would be a pretty bleak future if all we had to look forward to was collective weeping over the lost months when social distancing is lifted. I’m glad to know that’s not how the story ends in Nehemiah 8:10-12.
The general tone of the crowd changes almost immediately within one verse. This crowd goes from resembling a funeral procession to a birthday party-like atmosphere in one verse. Nehemiah 8:10 describes why the crowd starts to find excitement about their future together.
If you were to study why the hearts of more than 50,000 people changed almost instantly in this passage, the answer you’d find is… HOPE! The hearts of the people went from hurting over the lost years, to happy about the future. The difference between these two powerful human emotions is a sense of hope!
This passage is a vivid example of how much we need each other. I am convinced that our sufferings are reduced when we share our pain with other people. I am equally convinced that our joys are multiplied when we celebrate with other people. The crowd dynamics recorded in Nehemiah demonstrate why people go from suffering over the past to excited about the future.
If you’re really struggling with loneliness and isolation right now, I hope that you will reach out to friends and family- even if it must be virtually. However, I also want to offer you some hope for the future. We will get through the COVID-19 virus!
God in Heaven alone knows when the lingering impact of this virus will pass, but we have an accurate picture of what large group gatherings will look like in the future thanks to Nehemiah 8. When you have a few minutes, go back and read Nehemiah 8 for yourself. I believe this chapter of the Bible will help you deal with the difficulties of being separated right now and look forward to gathering together in the future.
To hear a whole sermon on Nehemiah 8 and how sadness turned to joy, watch our livestream on YouTube this Sunday at 11:00am EST: HERE
 H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, vol. 16, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1985), 286.