It might feel like a dozen, but we’re now almost exactly one year since we’ve gathered inside our sanctuary for worship. It’s an auspicious milestone. A year ago, none of us could have imagined the struggles the year ahead would hold. Some of us may have even been tempted to remain in our beds on any given Sunday morning knowing that we could always come to church next Sunday at 9:30.
Until we couldn’t.
Much of that initial scrambling to figure out how to be the church amid a pandemic has settled down and, with the development of effective vaccines, the potential return to physically gathered worship is now on the horizon. With the exception of the air conditioners being installed as I type this, the building remains unchanged – but the Church – the Body of Christ – will be different. We are different. Like those who lived through the Great Depression, those who lived through the past 12 months will bear the marks of this experience for the remainder of their time on earth.
This change could be good, bad, or indifferent. But I remain convinced that much of that depends on how we choose to integrate and interpret this time in our ongoing story of faith. This time has been trying to even the most patient among us, and almost unbearable to those of us who aren’t. We’ll be tempted to seek safety and security from helpless idols, to grab everything of which we feel we’ve been unfairly deprived, and make up for ‘lost’ time.
All of us have lost something this past year, some of us profoundly so. I find myself wondering more lately about what we’ve discovered along the way: about ourselves, about our congregation, about worship, about our neighbors, and, most of all, about God.
I believe our time in the pandemic ‘wilderness’ is only lost time if we fail to learn from it. We’ll undoubtedly make some mistakes and missteps along the way back to our physically gathered life, but there will be no going back to pick up where we left off. If we’re the church of Jesus Christ, we will be the church the world needs going forward and not attempting to recreate some idealized yesterday.
The church exists to save sinners, not itself. Cleaning up the damage this pandemic has done will be a massive project and clearly there’s a role for the Church to play as an agent of truth and healing, but it will miss the opportunity if it’s too busy trying to be the church the world needed yesterday or thirty years ago. I hope that as we’re able to reopen our doors that we will do so having first sought to reopen our hearts, our minds, our Bibles, and our prayers that we will be the Church that the postpandemic world will so desperately need.