Church buildings all over the world are shutting their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a discouraging time, to say the least, to be forced to keep our distance from each other. But these decisions are wise and for the best, even if they are not easy.
And so on this Sunday morning instead of hurrying my two boys off to their rooms to change into their “Sunday best” (i.e. jeans instead of their usual sweat pants), I pour another mug of coffee and plop down onto the sofa in my sweat pants, while they build Lego at the kitchen table in theirs. My husband cooked us a brunch of homemade hasbrowns and fried eggs and is now relaxing beside me — an unusual scene on Sunday morning since he is usually rushing off to worship team practice before I’m even out of bed.
I won’t lie, it’s been a delightfully slow Sunday. When my 6 year old found out we wouldn’t be going to the regular service he immediately exclaimed, “Finally! A break from church!” My husband and I both laughed. It’s extremely rare for our family to miss a service. I volunteer in the nursery most Sundays and my husband drums every week, so we understand the feeling of relief when we get a week to rest.
For many people, this slow, relaxed morning is just a regular Sunday, but for church goers, this is quite a change from the normal routine.
A New York Times article titled “The Christian Response to the Coronavirus: Stay Home” was published a few days ago, and I especially loved these lines: “The church’s absence, its literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location. The church remains the church whether gathered or scattered. It might also indirectly remind us of the gift of gathering that we too often take for granted.”
Our physical separation from our brothers and sisters reminds us of a truth we sometimes forget — that we don’t go to church, we are the church. In these circumstances we must look to other ways we can join together, if not physically. Let us pray. Let us sing. Let us send notes of encouragement. Let us support our pastors and leaders as they navigate this time of uncertainty. Let us remind each other of truth when lies come slithering in. Let us prioritize phone calls to our loved ones in isolation, our grandparents in care homes, give our extras to those in need. Let’s spread love and light into places where we see pain and darkness.
Let’s believe that the church remains the church whether gathered or scattered, and act as if this were true. We can rejoice that God, our good, good Father, can and will meet us regardless of our location.
And then, when the doors of our buildings are allowed to be opened once again, the coming together will be all the sweeter. Our hearts will be all the more grateful. Our smiles wider, our hugs stronger. Our voices will sing all the louder on that day because we trusted in our faithful God to never leave or forsake us. We walked in his way of gentleness and compassion even in the face of fear, and he led us through the valley.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:14 (NRSV)