Back in March, when the pandemic closed everything but essential services, including churches, we were always hopeful that we’d be back. And here we are. With restrictions lifted and guidelines in place, some churches are headed back. Of course, that could change if there’s a second wave, but it feels good to know that we can go back. Back to sitting in our pews or chairs, back to Sunday mornings at 10:30 (or whatever day and time you meet).
Did I say “back” enough times that you’re suspicious about how I framed that?
When the pandemic hit, we reminded people that the church isn’t a building or a gathering or a structure. Being the church means living out what we’ve learned and experienced from the Sunday meetings. Being the church isn’t about being in, but about going out and living out God’s love.
That doesn’t mean we don’t miss gathering as a church. But when this began, it was a good reminder that there’s more to church than being in a certain place at a certain time doing certain things. It was an opportunity to truly practice what we believe, with love, grace, kindness and care, not just in church but out of it.
Even now, for those returning to the physical space, we have guidelines in place to keep people healthy and safe that restrict many of the things that were done there. Physical spacing, no singing, no sharing of food or drink. This isn’t the same as before. Will it be something new or will it just be a way of asking for more patience as this goes on longer?
It was also a good reminder that there’s no going back. We go forward, and now we go forward with all that we’ve experienced and learned in the last few months. Many people have done some amazing Jesusing, many have received some Jesusing, and a lot have talked about how important it will be to remember all this Jesusing when circumstances change again. And again and, probably, again.
There’s also no going back to before the struggles that have accompanied the pandemic and the ongoing struggles that have been refreshed in the last few weeks. Systemic racism, violence, care of the elderly – the list is long and challenging, but it’s been lifted up again and we go forward, boldly stepping into a future of love, grace and peace.
Or haven’t we been listening to Jesus?
Over a few weeks now, I’ve been talking about the story in Matthew’s gospel about Jesus commissioning the disciples. You might remember: it’s when I once again started encouraging you to use “Jesus” as a verb. Because that’s what he asks of them in sending them out, to be Jesus to people. And he reminds them what that means. I say “reminds them” because I think they’d been with him long enough to see and experience the effect Jesusing has on people. Just as many church going folk have now.
He also tells them they’ll not always be welcome, they’ll be persecuted and attacked and people will reject them. And he tells them that there will be conflict and there should be conflict. What’s important is that we come to it with open hearts and minds, grace, compassion and love and, well, just being Jesus. Engaging diversity with love makes the world richer.
We’re coming to the end of that story and here’s where we might want to listen most closely. Jesus says, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Jesus didn’t commission the disciples to be indoors, asking people to come and join them there where they’d receive a warm welcome. He sent them to do Jesusing in a world desperate for love, knowing that they would not be welcome everywhere, but where they were, they would share an experience of God that would transform people, communities, nations, maybe even churches.
Whether we name it as God or Jesus or Spirit, whether we use the language of church or a particular tradition, we make the world a better place by living love into it, building relationships through grace and compassion, sharing justly and equitably and welcoming each other to the great connectedness of creation.