Roman Catholic and LCMS church leaders were insisting to MN Governor Walz that they would wait no longer and were going to open their churches to worship, President Trump came along and insisted that it was now past time to consider churches essential and that if the governors did not act to allow them to open, he would. In the midst of all of this, the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA responded by tweeting that the President's call was reckless, divisive, and dangerous. So I am assuming that she would say the same to the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod leaders who petitioned for opening of churches.
What is shocking here, is that the very folks who have political opinions on every subject (like the ELCA and its Presiding Bishop) believe that the Church must be subject to those governing authorities. Strange, I did not hear any such words from Bishop Eaton supporting more conservative protocols with respect to illegal immigrants and their rights or the closure of the borders and GLBTQ rights. Indeed, some might suggest that the Bishop herself is simply pandering to her own base. But that is the point. Liberal Protestantism, even when it is all dressed up, is more about the influence they can bear upon the world than about the preaching and teaching of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Even more so, Liberal Protestantism is thrilled with symbols but uncertain about what to do with realities like the presence of Christ in His body given for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. Rainbow flags are all over the place but solemn devotion to the command of God to worship Him where He has promised to be, in the Word and Sacraments seems to be less urgent.
The Body of Christ is connected, of course, not by our own paltry human endeavors but by the design and act of God. The Body of Christ is certainly conducting private devotions but these are no substitute for the Divine Service. They are the best we can do when we can do nothing more but the move and direction is and has always been to restore the gathering of God's people as soon as possible and within the reasonable constraints of appropriate physical distance, sanitizing, and cleanliness. We cannot wait until every possible threat is gone. The Church is not safe but is, at least to the world, the exact opposite. She is a radical threat to individual values and self-centered interest and she calls not to freedom but the freedom to submit to Christ the head of the Body. We gather not for entertainment or inspiration but for the cleansing of absolution, for the living voice of the Word that speaks by the power of the Spirit, and for the feeding of our bodies and souls with the very Body and Blood of Christ. This is the identity and vocation of the baptized -- the service of God that equips us for our service in response, directed to our neighbor for His glory and purpose.
Christianity will always face threats from the outside but, as always, the most dangerous are the threats from within. Like those who presume faith is a private and individual matter and the worship of God's people around Word and Altar is less than essential to the people of God or our manifestation of His grace before the world. Or, like those who confuse worship with the vocation of service to their neighbor. We do not worship God by serving our neighbor -- this is who we are and what we do. As Jesus has reminded us, when we do our duty it is not some extraordinary sacrifice for which we should expect anything in return or any reward. The fruits of the Law's guidance of those justified by grace is to love as we have been loved. This does not diminish our good works but places them where they belong. The Divine Service is about the God who serves us with His gifts and thus enables us to respond with praise and thanksgiving -- not about what we do to honor Him or earn His favor. Everything flows from this and without this the Church and each individual Christian is in jeopardy.