Tuesday, April 14, 2020


This stay-in-place, work from home, social distancing lifestyle has taken its toll on us all. Even we introverts who either welcomed the excuse for social distancing or just didn't see much of a difference from their normal lives are starting to miss the occasional anxiety-inducing thrill ride that is interacting in groups of more than four people. For extroverts, it must be so much more of a loss, or so they tell me.
Early on, I went through a brief period of resentment and suspicion about the new normal. I was upset about the loss of congregational gathering for church services and other events with the body. I felt that the government told us to shut down our churches, and we complied without so much as a question. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't trying to buck the system, and I want to love my neighbors too by protecting them from the virus, but there was something about the quickness of it all that took my breath away and made me think about how easy it is to change the foundational traditions of the church.
I was venting at work, and one of the sisters graciously talked me back off the ledge. She mentioned all the ways that she sees church happening all over, just not in the sanctuaries, and how our American church is starting to look more like the early church, who, for different reasons, also operated out of homes, in small groups, and didn't dare make a show of their numbers to the world. Because of her words, it occurred to me that we've gotten so used to our large assemblies, our comfortable sanctuaries, our sound systems and air conditioning, that we've come to think that's what church is. I can't even count how many times I've heard someone say that the church is the people, the body, and not the building, and yet as soon as someone took away the building, I felt as if the church had been taken with it. All around the world, strong, faithful brothers and sisters have been doing real church without the luxury of beautiful buildings and without the safety of large numbers, making their bonds stronger through adversity. But the prospect of spending one Easter without colorful dresses and sharp suits, without top-flight musicians playing my favorite hymns and a crowd of people to sing them (so that I don't have to), and I'm sulking in my living room like Elijah in his cave. And just like Elijah, it took God whispering in my ear to make me realize that most of the church has had it a lot worse for a lot longer, and has grown closer to Him and each other other through it all.
Then Easter came, and it wasn't so bad. All the kids and the grandbaby were in the house for the first time since the lockdown. We watched our church service on the computer and had our own communion love feast. We hunted eggs and played games for the rest of the day. We called some of our church members that we hadn't seen in a while. 
We did church.
There was something about that image of the empty tomb that resonated with me this year in a way that it never has before. In that tomb, Jesus was locked away, cut off from his disciples, from his family, from his friends. It was only three days, but it must have felt like a lifetime. Before that, He was in jail, awaiting the sentence that He already knew was going to be the worst possible outcome for Him, and the best possible one for us. Before that, He had spent a long period of solitude in the desert, preparing His heart, mind, and body for the unthinkable task that lay ahead of Him. He knew what it was to lose His freedom, what social distancing was like. After all, when He needed support the most, none of His friends would even acknowledge Him, let alone come within six feet.
And then He rose. The angels opened the tomb, and He walked out into blinding sunlight, and the universe changed forever. After a short period of seclusion, now there was a church, there was a temple in each one of us, there was a path straight into God's very presence that hadn't existed before.
That's how it can be when we step out of our tombs, if we make it so. When we emerge from this quarantine and social distancing, we can keep this longing for connection with the body with us. We can shift the focus off the steeple and onto the people. With God's help, we can emerge as something new - an American church that worships and loves with the same kind of sincerity and devotion that the rest of the body around the world has taught us for the last century or so.

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