We as a people have become followers of a new and powerful idol. Like the children of Israel, it is not a god imposed upon us but one of our own creation. We have worshiped this god to the exclusion of reason, prudence, economic security, and real science. We have pursued this idol with all the forces of power -- media, politics, and personality. We have silenced every other religion in pursuit of this new deity and laid up restrictions on freedom that in any other time would have been resisted with all our efforts. Instead of faith, this new religion is fueled by fear and by our relentless pursuit of our own personal safety and security. Even family is not immune from the piety of a religion in which the protection of me is most important.
Now it appears that our movements and our whereabouts will be not only be tracked but limited by such things as vaccine passports. We will be told where and when we may come and go. From air travel to concerts to colleges to churches, it is not too far fetched to see the day when religious access will not only be monitored but controlled. Yes, the right to worship privately will be maintained with some sort of accommodation but the churches will find themselves persona non grata unless they agree to bow down to the god of safety and acknowledge the legitimacy of those who will tell us what we are to do and when we are to do it, what we are to believe and how we shall practice that belief.
It is easy to write these words on this page. It will be a far more difficult to combat the tenets of this religion and restore what has been lost to its slavish devotion. Churches are still making their decisions more on the basis of what will make people safe rather than what should and ought to be done in accord with the faith. Communities have used law enforcement to keep people away from those churches and to cast doubt and aspersions upon those who would violate rules of assembly. Politicians have used the bully pulpit to exploit our fears so that we would turn against the very things that once gave us the most profound comfort, hope, and peace. The media has become the voice of this religion, the prophets and sages who teach us what will keep us safe, what will give us hope, and what is a risk too great to take.
What are left are churches who have refused to give in. They have kept their doors open, found ways around the rules to make sure that God's people received the real hope of the Word preached and the body and blood of Jesus. They have not been arrogant but humble, working outside of the limelight to do what God has given His Church to do in persecution and pandemic and in disaster and death. And if you are blessed, you have been served by such a quiet and yet courageous congregation and pastor. For the reality is that the most of our judicatories and the leaders of our various jurisdictions have not been leaders to find ways to bring people to God and bring the things of God to the people. They have warned us against acting recklessly and have encouraged online versions of what was once thought to be possible only in person.
Preaching has become a media event and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood profaned by the idea that a digital voice can supply the means to commune at home, in the safety and security of your own abode without the threat of other people around you. The chalice has given way to the hermetically sealed plastic cups containing juice or perhaps wine and a cracker crumb. Piety under the pandemic has become solely internal, fed and nourished apart from the external means of grace. People have been led not by the truth or the wisdom of the faithful but by fear to do what in every other time would be laughed at or ridiculed. People work from home, eat at home (with food supplied by various services), shop at home, go to school at home, so why not worship at home?
The reality is we do not wear masks or distance or vaccinate to protect others -- we do it to protect ourselves. There is also another reality at work here. We have decided that we will do whatever is necessary to protect our lives and in so doing have decided that the treasure of this life is greater than the treasure of the life won by Jesus' death and resurrection. What did St. Paul mean when he asked if it was better to die and be with Jesus or to live and do the Lord's work? Are we ready to die, to give up this temporary life for eternal life, whenever it happens? Do we believe the greater treasure is the life the grave cannot contain or the life that death looms over like a shadow until we die? At some point we must realize that Jesus did not come into flesh, suffer, and die to provide a safety net of protection for this mortal life. He did this to provide for us the life that death cannot overcome. Yes, our Lord healed many but not all and raised some of those who died but not all. Was it that He did not care about us and our lives or because He knew that the only life He could give us that would not be fragile is the life that His dying would win and His resurrection would bestow?
It has been more than a year. Even those vaccinated are told to wear a mask or two and social distance and warned that they could still get the virus or spread it. If we think that we will wake up one day and everything will be back to normal at home or in the marketplace or at church, we are delusional. It will not happen suddenly nor will it happen at all as long as the god of personal safety and security is trusted more than the God who embraced death to give us life death cannot overcome.