By James Hammack
The Alabama Baptist
We are at a unique crisis point that several generations would never have expected. A pandemic has affected almost every way of life, including the gathering of the body. As if adding insult to injury, one of the most celebrated Sundays of the liturgical year also is affected. What will Easter look like in the throes of COVID-19?
As Alabama Baptists, we have been issued an order from the state government that prohibits non-essential businesses from operating and places restrictions on gathering in numbers greater than 10. But surely churches aren’t to be seen as non-essential, are they?
What if we are looking at this the wrong way? What if we aren’t asking the right question?
Blessed are the peacemakers
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” —Matthew 5:9
The world is missing out, and we have a wonderful opportunity to bring peace into an otherwise chaotic daily existence where fear and uncertainty abound.
Did COVID-19 surprise God? Of course not. Quite the opposite is true.
God is in control, delivering peace to and through His people. If there is a time for God’s people to choose the road of peace and tranquility, this is it.
Let us not be like the disciples worried about the storm. Instead, let us show that we know Who is in the boat with us — the One through whom all creation bows, Jesus. Sometimes He calms the wind and waves for His people. Other times, He gives us strength to weather the shipwreck like he did for Paul.
So, what now? We have instruction from the Word to live peaceably with all men, if possible. We have been commanded to love our neighbors. We have been given imperatives to submit to governing authorities as long as we obey God’s law first and foremost. These are our dictating truths.
Our governing authorities have been a little vague about a particular method of gathering, namely the drive-in Easter meetings and Sunday services that some have done. It is such a wonderfully creative method of continuing to meet. But how closely does it line up with the recent directive regarding gathering numbers and non-essential business operations?
This is the tough spot where it’s very easy for defensive walls to rise. Let me encourage you before we continue. Jesus said the church will prevail and the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. The coronavirus has no chance.
Having said that, the government has viewed churches as small, non-profit businesses for years. This means that the building most likely qualifies as non-essential. As we know, this does not mean that church is non-essential, it just means that this particular method of meeting is non-essential in the view of our world.
The concept of drive-in gatherings is still more than 10 gathering on the grounds of the building. And then there are the logistics of bathroom usage, trapped kids in the car, people in parking spots less than six feet away and most likely opening their windows, etc. It’s a logistical nightmare that fails to meet the heart of the ordinance.
And this isn’t aimed to persecute the church. Other organizations where extended gathering and contact is normative are also deemed non-essential. We know that we can expect persecution according to Jesus’ words. But I don’t think we can describe this particular move as persecution.
While the pull to be physically present in some manner is strong, especially at Easter, this time of distance ought to be producing a longing for the gathered worship. We ought to miss the gathered Communion, baptisms, greetings, singing, preaching and works of the Spirit.
The online version of church is a poor substitute for the gathered body. Yes, our homebound members can be blessed when we provide ways for them to join in through online methods, but the routine when possible ought to be that physical gathering.
Long for the day
Continue longing for the day when we can return to the building and worship in person. Speak about it out loud to one another and post it on social media.
But in an effort to show the world the peace of God and be properly submissive to our governing authorities, we can work to make the most of Easter from afar.
We can bemoan our afar-ness in positive, Christ exalting ways that build instead of tear down. And we can have the biggest block parties when we weather this storm and come out on the other side.
Let’s usher in peace, by living out the peace that God has given us through Christ our Savior.
EDITOR’S NOTE — James Hammack is TAB’s digital services manager and serves bivocationally on the pastoral team and in worship leadership at HisWay Community Church in Prattville.