Dorie wiped tears from her eyes, saying, “That was beautiful. It means so much to me to be here.” She’d gathered with her sister and three others on a Sunday morning to watch our taped worship service, projected on a screen in a virtually empty sanctuary, followed by communion. I could empathize with her feelings and agree; it did seem special. But I couldn’t help thinking how odd that was. It sure wouldn’t have seemed that special back in February.
Today is a much different story. “Don’t it always seem to go / You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” sang Joni Mitchell many years ago. How very true that is! Not that long ago, there’d be some people I’d encounter in the store or on the street who’d immediately launch into a whole bunch of unsolicited reasons why I hadn’t seen them Sunday mornings lately. Now, those same people stop me and say, “I sure miss church.” I agree with them, too.
But what, exactly, are we missing?
There is so much about the way we live, and breathe, and have our being that has changed radically in the past couple of months, and evolving in ways we cannot foresee. But one thing is certain: uncertainty. And that a return to the way things used to be isn’t going to happen for some time—if ever. So, if what we’re missing is “church as it was before,” we are going to be disappointed. However, that doesn’t mean lowering expectations and doing without. Rather, it means discerning what is truly important to be a church and cherishing those things, especially when times are rough. In words remarkably applicable to us enduring pandemic isolation, Paul exhorts the Ephesians to live wisely, “making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Don’t be foolish; understand what the will of the Lord is.” Don’t drink too much wine; sing and make melody to God in your hearts, always giving thanks; be subject to one another out of your devotion to Christ. [5:15-21] They didn’t have to miss church; they just needed to distill its essence and bring it to bear in strengthening them to meet the uncertainty and adversity the world was dishing out in heaping helpings.
Actually, I think so many people missing church is a good omen. But let’s all bear in mind what we’re not missing. The Word is still being proclaimed (via YouTube) and, if the numbers are any indication, heard by more people. There are still opportunities to study, work, and pray (via Zoom). Fellowship continues to happen (I take heart knowing so many of you are calling one another, sending cards and gifts and soup to each other, assisting those in need). Best of all, many are discovering ways to “do church” in their own homes—in 21st century Emmaus fashion, inviting Christ into their living rooms. How cool is that?!
Which brings me back to Dorie’s tears. Under such limiting circumstances, with so much not as it was before, it was evident to me she’d found what she was missing.