We have all known for a long time that it is difficult to convince yourself to do what is good, right, and salutary. None of us wants to go on a diet, engage in a regimen of regular exercise, work hard at our jobs, marriages, and families, or a thousand other things generally good for us. The same is true when it comes to confessing our sins. Who among us delights in admitting the worst about ourselves is the truth about ourselves? I know I don't. We excuse and justify and ignore in order to preserve us from the indignity of saying the words a poor, miserable sinner. But saying those words are the key to receiving the unfettered mercy of God who forgives the sinner, reclaims the lost, restores the unworthy, and rejoices with all of heaven over just one in whom humility and faith win out over pride and unbelief.
In the same way, however, the hardest person to convince of the rightness of something we neither like nor desire is yourself. Whether it is waking up and preparing yourself and family to be in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day or singing the hymn you do not enjoy or praying for as long as 30 seconds or reaching into your wallet to give to the Lord the tithes and offerings that are His due, we are hard to convince. Even when the cause is just and right and we know it in our minds, we fight against it with our hearts.
In my parish we have less than 100 people in a building that seats 400 and yet some inside we cannot social distance far enough and are staying home from worship. We have a masked service in which 30 people are in a space that seats 400 and still some balk at attending. We have masks at every entrance and hand sanitizers throughout the building and every other pew roped off, but still people are sure that it is not safe to gather therein. We have had less than 4 cases known to have come from contact in the church building over 11 months with literally thousands in worship, Bible study, Sunday school, and every other usual activity but some insist upon saying the church is full of COVID. Pastors have emailed and called and visited any who wish to be visited and still there are those who will not come and do not want us to come either. We have seen some of those folks heading into Wal-Mart or out of Kroger or at gas stations or a hundred other places where people go to do the essential business of life but they cannot or will not come to Church for in-person worship. While some of those who are staying away are faithful in prayer and the financial support of the congregation, many of those are people we have not heard from for months and about whom we know little. It sometimes seems to be exactly the way some wish it to be.
Your pastors plead for you to come or to allow us to come. While there have been times when God's people have had to go without the benefit of His Word preached or the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood, this is not one of them. We can, if we want, hear the word with ears that listen to what our eyes see and we can, if we desire, receive the Lord's Body and Blood and still be safe. It is not a choice we have to make between safety and being in God's House and receiving His gifts. But even if we choose not to attend, the consequences of our choice will linger on in us. Having once given up the habit of preparing and heading our to the Lord's House on the Lord's Day, we will have to relearn this habit again at some point in time or else we will surrender more than a presence to the demons of corona virus. Having once learned to live our lives from week to week without coming together in the Lord's House, we will have to relearn not only what we are missing but why it matters. Having taught our spouses and children that Sunday is just another day, it will not be easy to teach them anew that Sundays we gather in Church before we do anything else. Having once turned on a screen and watched worship as a spectator from afar, it will be hard to see the need to be there in person or to recall what it is that we are not getting at home before a screen.
We say what we are doing is to protect our lives and the lives of those around us. But the one enduring fruit of this pandemic will be a smaller number of people gathered in most churches and more names on a list of those who once were numbered among us. In this, we will have failed whatever test such an affliction might bring. For if the result of the pandemic is a weaker and smaller Christianity, how can we not say that this was the devil's work and we his willing co-conspirators. I say this not because I want it to be true but because I fear it will be true and it will be the truth we passed on to our children.