We are being forced to practice our communal faith as the digital Body of Christ. Right now, for the most part, we are a virtual Body of Christ. And that’s OK. We know in our heads we don’t have to be physically together to be Christians. Our songs are still getting through to God. Our prayers are still being heard. Unimpeded. We know we don’t have to be together in the same physical space to pray. The Bible tells us we don’t even have to say words to pray. Ministry is happening. Worship is happening. And our God is at work in and through all of it. He is loving us, drawing us closer to him, reminding us, encouraging us, challenging us, changing and shaping us more into his image.
We know all these things are happening. God’s holy presence is with us whether we are gathered together inside a church building on Sunday morning or hunkered down by ourselves in our homes. We know this. In our heads.
But in our hearts, something’s not right. It doesn’t feel right.
Christianity is a communal faith. We were created by God to be together. Physically. Incarnationally. Together. Occupying the same space, breathing the same air, sharing the same meal. Christianity is about breaking down the walls that separate us and uniting all people and all things together in Christ. Social distancing with its masks and gloves and six-feet of separation does not feel like church.
Last night we held our first parking lot worship service here at Central. As far as coming together in the same space as a church, this is about as good as we can manage right now. And it’s OK.
We all rolled down our windows, tuned our car radios to the designated FM frequency, sang very familiar songs together, heard very familiar Bible passages, and prayed very familiar prayers. Together. We saw each other’s faces and heard each other’s voices. We lifted our hands to the Lord in praise and toward one another in blessing. And it was sweet. Our oldest saints and our youngest kids and everybody in between honking our horns and flashing our lights. It was so sweet.
My family and I worshiped together inside the truck. To our immediate left, Suzanne Couch making jokes about me being a televangelist and Mary Merchant singing “It Is Well” through her oxygen tube. To our immediate right, John Todd and Kami Cornett, dealing with their own health issues and business worries, singing “Blessed Assurance,” and nodding affirmatively while listening to Hebrews 10. Directly behind us, Steve and Becky Nordyke, selfless servants of our Lord, great Bible class buddies, loyal covenant group partners, unbelievable sources of continuous encouragement, and priceless friends, smiling and singing and waving.
In my truck and on the stage and in a lot of the cars around us, people lost it while we raised our hands to each other singing “I Love You with the Love of the Lord.” When we began blessing each other in unison with the words from Romans 15:13 — “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” — it broke down after about the fourth word. Lots of us got really emotional about hearing each other’s voices together like that. It’s been a while.
Our city is under attack by this virus right now. The CDC has set up shop at the fairgrounds and it feels like it’s going to get a little worse now before it gets better. We’re still targeting May 31 for a return to public, in-person worship assemblies at Central but, even then, not everybody will be able to participate. For several more weeks, we’re still going to be mostly a digital Body of Christ. A virtual congregation of God’s people. But we are always together in Christ. By God’s grace, we are always together in him.