This post is part of the series “New Church” in which the St. John’s community reflects on how to “do church” in this time of pandemic.
–By Michele S.
As one who grew up a missionary kid, moving from place to place and often leaving friends behind, one essential component of heaven for me was that it would be a place where there would be no more separation from those we love. This morning I was reading in Romans the well known passage chapter 8 verse 28. The Net Bible translation gives it a fresh ring: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.“
Reading that passage, in this time of quarantine and social isolation, my question for Jesus is “What does that mean–nothing can separate us from your love?” Of course, like well-loved children who know their parents love them and live into that love without a second thought, we trust in God’s love for us and rest in his arms. But then the answer becomes more complicated. Jesus’ love is also mediated to us through the love of our brothers and sisters in the church community, through our beloved family members from whom we are physically separated. Let’s face it: all forms of community as we know it have been ripped apart by this pandemic. So then: How do we trust that promise that “nothing can separate” when we find ourselves confined at home, forbidden to meet, banned from our beloved church space, exiled from human contact, unable to pray together, to harmonize our voices together in worshipful song, to weep and confess our sins together, to share the Eucharist as one body?
I am going to venture a theory. I have been wondering why this very strange situation has all of a sudden descended upon the whole world. It is like waking up in the middle of a bad–very bad–dream. As you may know (having heard it from scholars of world Christianity), Christianity is on the rise in powerful ways in the Global South. In some parts of the world, thousands of people are coming to Christ everyday. The Holy Spirit is doing supernatural works–miracles, healing, transformation of desolate land, banishment of evil spirits, in many places, like in the early church. These new Christians from Africa, Asia, and Latin America are now immigrating to the secularized countries of the West for various reasons and needs. Many are Christians and they are bringing their vibrant faith with them and a burning love for Jesus. The beautiful added consequence of their immigration is that they are bringing the good news and hope of Jesus to share with a secularized, hopeless West.
So my theory is that this pandemic that has brought separation, division, isolation, fear of the “other,” is the Enemy’s way of trying to put a stop to the global move of the Spirit. The pandemic is the Enemy’s nuclear bomb. Will he succeed in separating us all from the love of Christ? From each other? From our neighbors? No, simply put, he will not. Christian history shows us that the Enemy’s plans for our destruction regularly blow up in his face. Look at persecution–it multiplies the church!
Perhaps the better question is this: How do we live into God’s promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus?” If God’s promises are irrevocable (they are) then they are our Reality, our Truth, as Christians. If we are in God, nothing can separate us from His family, either in the local church community or the global church. But once again: what does that mean in our current reality? How do we live that out in practical ways, when so much does, in fact, separate us?
So then, how do we embody unity and solidarity in the body of Christ in these extraordinary times? Unity in our own community of St. John’s and with the global church? I thank God for all the ways I have seen people at St. John’s weave us together and create community. How do we think more about this good work so that it may grow, like that mustard seed, and bless our neighbors as well?