Within the past week everything has been cancelled. At least that's what it feels like. Spectator sports, conferences, ski hills, most airline travel, gatherings over 50 people, or 10, or 5. Libraries, golf courses, community centres, art galleries, swimming pools. Schools and universities. Borders are congealing, streets are empty. We are told to work from home, and self isolate. So many have been or will be laid off, some with pay, many without. There has been nothing like this on such a scale since World War 2. A common enemy; drastic measures; fear and restlessness and waiting and wondering. Front line fighters, and those on the home front. There are only two news stories (it seems): COVID-19 and it's health and social effects, and the economic fallout.
But many people are still very much at work: some industries are all-out: Praise God for the medical professions and health sciences and researchers and drug-testers and makers. Food still must be supplied. Transport is still required. Care for the elderly provided. Government and justice and public safety are the God-given net we all rely on for sustaining life and flourishing in this transitory life.
And-the church is not cancelled. You can't cancel church. You can refrain from assembling together in an extraordinary time such as this, but you can't stop what God has begun and will complete: the new Jerusalem, the living church gathered fully in his presence and place and peace. God's goal, his purpose, "which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time," is to "unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:10).
We may need to assemble in a different way. We may be restricted, for good reason, to social media or livestream or phone conversations. The way we meet and love God and neighbour may adjust for a time. But we are still the church,Â the "temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16). Present tense. A temple where God makes his dwelling and walks among us. Church is not cancelled.
I want to encourage you that the Church scattered (as we usually are outside of Sunday mornings) is no less substantial than the church gathered. Gathering matters. We will gather again as a large group. But for now, we must 'bear one another's burdens' and love God and love our neighbour and be prepared always to give a reason for the hope that is within us. The apostle Paul encourages us, "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).
Brian and Gywneth Roodnick, who live now in Switzerland behind closed national borders, and in isolation, wrote today that they "are still permitted to bike, so we will take bike trips every day for exercise and fun." This is excellent! While we must maintain "social distance" we do not need to be housebound (if we are asymptomatic). If possible, enjoy the blessing of God's good Creation. Also, keep reading your Bible (I commend Philippians and the Psalms in this time, alongside Nehemiah, and/or the Prayer Book Daily Lectionary). Listen to sermons online (there are some good links to sermons on the ANiC Website, and I recommend the SJR series "Revelation: The Triumph of God" from 2012-2013 on the SJR sermon download/search page). Take your SJR phone list and actually make an old-fashioned phone call to a brother or sister. See if there is a need, and if you are well, help in practical ways.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8). Draw near to one another with compassion and encouragement.Â Church is not cancelled.Â
From the Book of Common Prayer, for Healing Ministries:
ALMIGHTY God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ went about doing good, and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people: Continue, we beseech thee, this his gracious work among us: cheer, heal, and sanctify the sick; grant to the physicians, surgeons, and nurses wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience; and send down thy blessing upon all who labour to prevent suffering and to forward thy purposes of love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.