This is going to be a little late for some of you, but for many ministers, there is a First Sunday coming. We’ve been …what…. Isolated? Quarantined? Locked Down? Or just not meeting at the church building? That’s all about to change as American Christians head back to church. It’s been a difficult few months for reasons I enumerated here. But now we face the moment when parishioners begin to congregate on the first Sunday back.
There is so much running through my own mind as we face our first Sunday back. It should have an atmosphere of joy, celebration, and praise! But that’s not what I’m feeling. I’ve spent too much time trying to parse out what social distancing means for our church and trying to communicate it without sounding like we’re going to be running a prison camp. I think it can be all the things it should be, but I doubt it will be.
Social Distancing is a term we’ve become so acquainted with over the past few months. I think pretty much if you look at the definitions it is the antonym for the word church. To be socially distant is to be the opposite of everything I expect and need when I assemble with God’s family.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT
Yes, I’m going to have to think of ways to accomplish those things when we gather and sit with pews and space between us. Many have bemoaned the loss of hugs. One friend wrote a post called Why Get Out of Bed? – if you can’t hug, love on one another, sing out your praises and catch up with each other? He answered his own question by encouraging readers to focus on the things that are good (Philippians 4:8-9), and who can argue with that? Still, it’s hard to see a smile behind a facemask and it’s hard to hug from 6 feet away.
The First Sunday assembled together should be a special occasion – as special as you can make it. So, looking beyond the seating assignments, lack of handshakes and hugs, and (God help us) no coffee kiosks, what can we do to make that first Sunday a meaningful day? What can ministers do to help the gathered church embrace the moment?
There is so much for which to be thankful. I do not expect the assembly to feel like a usual assembly – and that’s good and bad. So I will need to be focused on the things for which I can thank our Father. We are here together. We are in the shelter of a place that is sacred to us. We are renewing our solidarity to keep our faith. We are able to be joined by those who shouldn’t assemble via technology about which Apostle Paul could have only dreamed.
And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.Colossians 3:17, NLT
God is present with us, as we have always affirmed about the assembly. Once seated, take a deep breath, let the fears and procedures fall into the background, and give thanks.
In my faith family, we commune each Sunday. It would be hard to gather and not observe the Lord’s Supper. So we will make it available to pick up on the way in – we won’t be passing trays as we traditionally have done. In a moment of prayerful devotion we will remember that it was the body and blood of Jesus that unites us together as a family of believers. The body of Christ sacrificed on the cross, yes, but also the body of Christ gathered together in his name. The blood of Jesus that flowed at Calvary, yes, but the blood of Jesus that continually cleanses us of our sins and allows us to approach Him in righteousness.
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.Colossians 1:19-20, NLT
I know that not every faith tradition communes weekly, and many have sought to avoid it because of contamination possibilities. Still, with great care, I encourage communion together. It is in this moment that the divine meal, hosted by our brother and Savior Jesus, unites our hearts in His love.
Our own thoughts and perceptions about the response to Coronavirus is a source of division among Christian people. It is incumbent upon each of us to do what leads to peace. That might mean that I just keep quiet about my convictions. It might mean we temper our conversations across six feet to the Gospel and God’s grace. It might mean letting a comment pass by without our own rebuttal. It might mean saying to my own heart to set aside every attitude and thought except love for God and others.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.Colossians 3:14-15, NLT
Promoting harmony is a fruit of dying to self, discipleship. It is not my life’s goal to have you agree with me. It is my life’s goal to love you.
We have contemplated, prayed, communed, smiled, and embraced this moment together. It isn’t all that we wanted it to be, but it probably never has been everything we would like it to be. And when the service is over and we file out to our automobiles and travel home, let us utter a prayer to God. Ask Him to heal our land, soothe our brokenness, and enhance our trust in His workings. Even when it wasn’t what we wanted it to be, I wonder if God will be disappointed or pleased? If He is pleased, should we be displeased?
No, I’m not being pollyanna about it all. I still have my own feelings about things. And I still long for the day when we might be able to get together to worship without thinking about a virus. But on that First Sunday I’ll be asking God through thanksgiving, communion, and harmonious time together to help build me into a better minister and Christian…and friend. To me, those are the more important things beyond the rules and regulations of social distancing. They simply matter more and are more powerful than anything else we are dealing with, on that First Sunday.