Sunday, August 9, 2020

Without risk or safe. . .

As with most pastors, I am still trying to get a handle on how life in the Church will look post-COVID 19 or even mid-COVID 19.  I expect that most congregations have a contingent of folks who have not returned to the Divine Service.  We do.  It is not a question of matching the pre-corona numbers but rather figuring out how to meet those with uncertainties and anxieties about meeting together in the Lord's House.

From the beginning I have asked what will it take for you to feel safe?  Sadly, there is no answer to that question.  It is not a question of masks or sanitizer or distance or even vaccine.  It is the fact that the Church seems to be held to a higher standard than just about any and every other place where people can or must go.  While this began with governmental overreach and with the imposition of restrictions upon the Church that were not placed on essential retail and other business, it has not stopped there.

What we need is a way to distinguish living without risk from being safe.  Strangely enough, people already do this in a host of places.  We purchase and consume meat wrapped in plastic without thinking whose hands cut the chop or roast or ground the hamburger and who wrapped the meat in its familiar styrofoam tray and plastic wrap.  We purchase and consume fruits and vegetables picked with hands and washed and packaged and then unpacked and laid out in inviting display in the produce section of our stores.  We purchase and consume baked goods somebody mixed and baked and set out for our purchase.  Even if we do not sit in the restaurant, we purchase and consume carry out food prepared by hands we do not know or see and packed up for us to eat within the confines of our homes or workplaces.  Perhaps even more odd is that we let others put together our grocery lists, pack them up, drop them off at car or door, and then consume what we have purchased without much thought to it all -- even though everyone who served was a stranger and unknown to us.

When it comes to sitting in the pews (even with recommended distance) and coming to the Lord's Table, we establish an exceptionally high burden for the Church to observe before we show up.  Why?  We daily live with acceptable risk -- even in times of COVID 19.  We see the doctor if we need to and have our prescriptions filled and get gas for our vehicles.  We know that there is risk in all of this but we have judged the risk acceptable in comparison to our need and have deemed the whole process relatively safe.  We may not like facing it, but we do because we know we need to face it.

Could it be that this is less about the great fear of assembling together in the Lord's House and more about the fact that we have, as a whole, have come to believe that worship is non-essential and, at least, not worthy the risk -- any risk!  When the day comes that we have decided it may be time to return to Church, will we have lost the habit and have to relearn the routines to get up, get dressed, and ready to walk through the door to meet the Lord around His means of grace?  What expectations will we place on the preacher or communion after so long a wait and will we be disappointed that returning to the Lord's House was not the mountain top experience we had hoped it would be?  Will we view our neighbors in the pews as continued threats to us and to our well-being instead of our family in Christ?  Will the once familiar shared cups of coffee or pot lucks become distant memories of a time no longer desired? 

In the end, this is less about the virus than it is about us.  Who we are and whose we are?  Is the faith on the fringes of our lives and something willingly surrendered to fear in time of threat or at the core and center of our being?  Do we desire above all the things of God, the gifts of His grace, and the life together within His body, the Church, or do we fear for our safety and security most of all?  Do we long for the courts of the Lord's House on high and for the life without sin and its death or do we live more for the next moment and next day of this mortal life?  COVID 19 has done one thing for sure.  It has exposed the fact that too many Christians see the faith as a little extra in their lives instead of the one thing needful and have used this whole pandemic to practice this little secret more openly.  And that means the Church and every pastor has an urgent calling to catechize more fully and to preach more faithfully and forcefully the eternal Gospel that is our only and everlasting hope.


Pr. Jim Wagner said...

My heart is aching. Our congregation worshiped in person for the first time today and we weren’t there. They posted photos this afternoon of the service in the memorial garden and nearly all the regulars were there - except us.
We have been very careful all these months. We are virtually housebound except for groceries and outdoor exercise. Our nurse practitioner son has encouraged us to stay close to home, so we do. He thinks the worst is yet to come. But my heart cries out for communal worship.
Perhaps next Sunday. But please, Pr. Peters, don’t be too hard on us: we want with all our hearts to be back in the assembly of the saints.

Anonymous said...

I was missing my yoga class more than anything, then I found a class that meets in the picnic shelter of a local park. Such bliss to do exercises with others again.

Why don't churches do outdoor services as long as weather permits? Many communities have such shelters and they can be reserved for free or very low cost and probably not in demand on Sunday mornings. Still do social distancing but at a much lower risk than indoors. Or put up a big awning or tent outside the church, bring out an electric keyboard.