The novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation and overwhelming our healthcare system has greatly impacted Christian lives and Christian worship. As of today, nearly every U.S. governor has instilled a “safer at home” or “shelter in place” ordinance in their state, which prohibits public gatherings—and also private ones—of more than ten people. In a country that has always allowed freedom of religion, suddenly congregating to worship with our fellow Christians has been suspended until further notice. How are you holding up?
For many Christians, their place of worship is more than a place to go on Sunday morning. Churches provide fellowship, encouragement, and the uplifting word of God. Parishioners may linger after a sermon to discuss with one another the verses their pastor focused on during the benediction. They might debate the word of God, compare the N.I.V. translation with the E.S.V., go deeper into the text. Believers who gain a deep sense of community when they assemble at church find other ways to congregate so that they can meet more often. There are bible study groups, community outreach efforts, food pantries, and soup kitchen hours throughout the week and anyone who wishes to volunteer is welcome.
This was life as we all knew it.
Then the outbreak hit. At first, believers continued to worship as always, but tensions soon emerged. There was more hand washing and less hand holding until eventually churchgoers altogether refrained from touching, hugging, and laying hands on each other during prayer. The new “social distancing” standard loomed. It was cumbersome, unnatural, or so we thought until we were informed that all services were to be suspended—an even more unnatural measure.
Christians have been separated from one another, legally prohibited from congregating for worship. This has never occurred before in U.S. history, but it has occurred before throughout history. Persecution has been a thematic hardship of our religion and this has dated all the way back to the time Jesus of Nazareth walked Jerusalem and the Pharisees and Sadducees stopped at nothing to silence and separate him from believers.
Hunkering down to weather the storm of this pandemic is hardly as oppressive as the political climate of our Lord’s time amidst which Christ and his disciples struggled to spread the gospel due to tyrannical opposition. But that doesn’t mean that life—and worship—as we’ve known it hasn’t changed.
We now worship at home, some of us with our families, others of us isolated, and that’s if we’re lucky enough to be in good health.
There have been cases of Christians who have been infected with COVID-19 and hospitalized, breathing with the help of ventilators, separated from their families, quarantined and alone. Others have lost their lives due to this highly contagious virus. Perspective matters.
Make no mistake, God truly is in control. This is his good work. He is doing something very big the entire world over with this pandemic and we would be wise to heed his message.
But what is his message?
“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name.” – Isaiah 61:5
As I drive every morning to the office and return home in the evening, there is a flashing road sign on the highway that reads, “stay home” then “stop the spread”. I live in NY State and the company I work for is abiding by Governor Cuomo’s mandate wherein no more than 25% of employees may be present on-site. I’m of the 25% who are permitted. Whenever I see the road sign, I get a post-apocalyptic feeling. My gut twists. There’s something in the air, but I’m not going to catch it. What’s in the air is more than a virus. It’s a whisper and it’s building into a message, a conversation, and a warning.
The conversation that God has initiated with us through this epidemic is about so much more than our physical health. The health of most Americans isn’t at risk, in fact. Our salvation is, and it has been for a very long time, we just didn’t know it.
My sister lives in Los Angeles, CA and the road signs she passes when she’s out driving flash a different message—"wash your hands.” Every sign she drives by flashes the same message. “Wash your hands.”
Great symbolism has been woven into the American lexicon for “hands”:
“I wash my hands of you.”
“You have blood on your hands.”
For my sister, all of those road signs might as well say “repent”.
I wonder if, in the eyes of God, the American people and people the world over have become collectively unclean. If that is how the Lord views us—as wholly unclean—and if that is why this pandemic has effected the lives of every human being on earth, I wouldn’t be surprised.
I believe the Lord has had enough of our uncleanliness and he’s sent us a powerful reason to wash our hands. But we need to wash more than virus germs off of our hands. We need to also wash the sin we’ve been living in out of our lives. We need to be clean. Clean by the Lord’s standards and not our own.
But we won’t be able to do that unless we seek him.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13
Now is a time for fasting and prayer. It’s a time to be silent and self-introspective; a time to evaluate our faith; to ask ourselves, have we strayed? Have we loosened our morals, indulged in vices, or sinned by committing acts we had repented from?
If you’re isolated, make the most of the isolation. Use your time to get back into the word of God if you haven’t cracked your bible open in a while. Reconnect with the Lord through prayer if you have fallen away. Ask Jesus to open your eyes and heart so that you can understand his will—the Lord’s will that is behind this pandemic—and his will for you at this time, as well. But most of all:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” – Deuteronomy 6:5