Dear church,

I’m not happy about this. Sunday morning is going to be strange for me. It might be strange for you, too. No church. The church building will be empty. Well, I will be there. I can’t help but be there. Old habits die hard, at least for me. And the church gathering – Sunday morning, a few handshakes, some small talk, some music, a prayer, a sermon, Communion – that’s a habit. I need that. It’s nourishment.

I try to get to the church at about 6 o’clock in the morning most Sundays. I get the technology working and settle the morning fog in my brain. Then I start a fire in the wood stove and sit down with the Psalms. I cherish this quiet time alone in the sanctuary. And then my brothers and sisters start showing up. That’s when “church” starts for me.

Granted, not every Sunday is the same. Some Sundays nourish more than others. You know what I mean. Sometimes, God speaks. And sometimes, God SPEAKS. I guess we shouldn’t expect it to be the same every week. We come on Sunday with all sorts of baggage – sometimes a lot and sometimes a little. And there may be a Sunday here or there where God seems silent.

Even so, the church gathering is my habit, and I don’t want to let it go. But here we are. Four weeks and no church. Thank you, COVID-19.

So I have started wondering what this is all about. God superintends the world. He’s in charge. And we’ve been fortunate here in America. We don’t suffer persecution like many Christians around the world. In America, the government can’t stop us from meeting. Until now.

A virus has forced us to shut our doors. So what is this all about? I’m not sure. I do know what Hebrews 12:7-8 says. “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

That says a few things that interest me. That first Hebrew church was suffering persecution. Things weren’t going well. They were puzzling, I believe, over whether to gather together. There was some cost to doing so. But they were told to endure for the sake of “discipline.” Hardship has a way of teaching us. It may or may not be something God is imposing on us as a punishment. But we ought to view every hardship as discipline – something from which we can learn and grow.

That’s a mature thing to do. I think we know that. What can I learn from the hardships that enter my life? What’s the big picture? How can I change my ways or my attitudes for the better because of this bad thing that’s entered in? So we ought to view hardship as “discipline” – as something that trains us in a new or better way of living.

COVID-19 as training. A lack of church meetings as discipline.

Maybe we should stop taking Sundays for granted. I’m not interested in lecturing anyone, but some Christians don’t care much for Sundays, about the church, about its gatherings, about their brothers and sisters in Christ. But every now and then, like Easter, they like to come to church. This year, they can’t. Discipline. Pay attention. Appreciate what you have. Maybe we should stop taking Sundays for granted. Maybe we should appreciate them and learn to join in the fellowship while we have the opportunity.

Even for those of us who’ve made it a habit to attend church regularly and who say we love our brothers and sisters in Christ and who say we love to worship our God in community – maybe we should stop taking Sundays for granted. Each gathering is a gift from God. It is the body of Christ, assembled to minister – to me and to you. I don’t always view it as a gift. Discipline. Today, I view it as a gift!

What else might God want to teach us through COVID-19? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

I titled this post “killing things” because our daily reading is the first and second chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Chapter 1 is full of life. There’s a long genealogy of Jesus. Life after life is named in that genealogy. Names of people who lived and breathed and had dreams. And one of those was Jesus Christ.

But a dark cloud hangs over Chapter 2. His name was King Herod. The baby Jesus was a threat to Herod’s power. Herod was convinced that Herod, alone, was king. No one in that land was going to be called “king” except for Herod. And so Herod slaughtered the babies in Bethlehem.

It likely wasn’t very many babies, but Matthew leaves us with the picture of mothers weeping, refusing to be comforted. Their babies had been killed.

We want to eliminate things we believe are threats to us. That’s our way. We want to kill germs. Hand sanitizer seems like a great thing today. So do Lysol wipes. We want to eliminate the threats. It’s amazing what we consider threats today.

Handshakes are threatening now. I keep forgetting that. When I encounter people, I still stick out my hand – and they give me their elbow. Again, old habits die hard. Handshakes are threatening. People, in general, are threatening, too. And so we want to eliminate our contact with them.

Of course, sometimes our efforts to eliminate threats comes with a high cost. I’m not saying we should ignore all the cautions of health experts in this pandemic. But there’s a high cost – perhaps higher than we realize – to eliminating all perceived threats to our welfare.

Killing babies. Killing germs. Killing human contact. Killing church services. Maybe one of the lessons God has for us in Herod’s paranoia is we should pause to think before we act. We should pause to think about what drives us. We should pause to think about what we’re afraid of. Am I driven by self-preservation only? (That’s a good question for toilet-paper hoarders!) Am I willing to stop and make my own honest search for truth? Just how afraid am I right now – and of what? Fully formed Christians have no fear of death.

That’s it for now. Keep reading in Matthew.

Chris

P.S. Here’s an interesting column I read yesterday about the Catholic response to COVID-19. It stuck with me. I’m curious what you think about it.

 

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