Today in Church I was struck with the contrasting images of warfare and gathering.
It started in Sacrament meeting. I choose the hymns, so I can't quibble with anyone but myself over the choice of "Behold A Royal Army" for our intermediate hymn. I remember struggling with it a little when I was choosing it. I love its assurance of victory through Jesus Christ. But my heart has been somewhat afflicted by all the conflict that surrounds us and singing about warfare felt kind of like pressing on a bruise. Then I got to the third verse:
Oh, when the war is ended, when strife and conflicts cease,
When all are safely gathered within the vale of peace,
Before the King eternal, that vast and mighty throng
Shall praise his name forever, and this shall be their song:
Victory, victory, thru him that redeemed us!
Victory, victory, thru Jesus Christ, our Lord!
Victory, victory, victory, thru Jesus Christ, our Lord!
That's the day I'm longing for, when strife and conflicts cease. When all are safely gathered. All. Because the Lord loves and is seeking to save every one of us.
Then we went to Sunday School, where the lesson was on D&C 77-80. Our teacher focused on a unifying theme that permeated each of those chapters -- the call to gather Israel. Meanwhile, a class member who struggles with her mental health was having a difficult day and kept interrupting the lesson with loud comments that were sometimes distracting and sometimes disparaging of others' thoughts.
The teacher asked, "what's the most important thing we can do to gather Israel?" I thought about D&C 77:8, which speaks of angels "who have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; having power to shut up the heavens, to seal up unto life, or to cast down to the regions of darkness." I felt that if I want to help gather "every nation, kindred, tongue and people," the most important thing I can do right now is rid my heart of every rejecting feeling toward any people or group, and to replace it with a feeling of invitation.
I don't like to think about the part about casting "down to the regions of darkness." But casting down is not my job. I'm working on learning to love and on becoming an agent of mercy. I'm happy to leave Justice in the hands of the one who loves us all perfectly.
But the situation in the classroom offered painful evidence that the call to love and invite everyone is bigger than I am. I ached for the sister, a couple rows behind me, who seemed to be aware that she was creating a disruption, embarrassed, and unable to stop herself. I couldn't think of a way to reach out, to try and gather, without risking offending her. The best I could think to do was to start praying for her in my heart.
Then the teacher asked, "and who is Israel?" There were a lot of spoken answers. Unspoken was the name of the sister sitting among us, struggling to relate, needing to be welcome, but hard to approach. And there was another answer in my heart that I didn't speak. It was that our Indigenous neighbours just across the highway and the flood of Muslim refugees to our country are two peoples whose lineages can quite easily be traced back to Israel. (Early Islam claimed many Christian and Jewish converts). Our interactions with both communities can tend to be marked by a spirit of conflict more than gathering.
After class, I turned around in my seat and chatted with a visiting friend who is a member of our provincial legislature. He talked with me about the growing conflict he's seeing everywhere. "And it's not just conservatives against liberals," he said. "It's women against men, vaccinated against unvaccinated, White against Black... or First Nations here, older people against young people," and so forth. Society is disintegrating and people everywhere are being stirred up to anger against their neighbours.
It reminded me of D&C 45: 69, which says of Zion, "And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven, and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another."
Against this backdrop of a social disintegration that seems to be accelerating, President Russell M. Nelson teaches, "The gathering of Israel is the most important thing taking place on the earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty."
And all of that brings me back to our intermediate hymn today. There is a battle raging and we are called to be the army of the Lord. But not to make war on one another. The battle is against Satan. And we are an army of shepherds, not soldiers. Our mission is not to kill but to save; to find, gather, and offer safety to every willing sheep.
I'm still perplexed about how to do that in situations where tensions are high with sheep that seem to want to be gathered but to resist it at the same time. But even that is okay, because the Lord knows how to gather His sheep, and He will teach us how.
With that assurance, I feel to join the mighty throng to praise His name forever and sing this joyful song: Victory, Victory, Victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.