Tuesday, April 21, 2020
This is our Moment
Churches are shut down.
Pastors and priests are preaching to empty pews, recording services for online viewing only. For the first time, followers of Christ all over the world cannot meet together, even ‘underground’ as the church has often gathered amidst persecution.
Instead, scattered in private homes, Christians congregate on YouTube and Zoom, huddling around the screen for their corporate spiritual nurture.
Christianity, from its inception, has been an embodied, incarnational religion. Christ himself was sent by the Father to dwell among us; God did not keep his ‘physical distance’ from humanity! How disorienting it is when the opportunities to be physically present with one another are cut off. How difficult it is to care for those inside and outside the church when we cannot gather together.
It might appear to the watching world that, like every other ‘non-essential service,’ the church is closed for business. It may seem to some of us that we are putting the work of the church on hold, waiting out the storm in token online gatherings, until things get back to ‘normal.’
While I am thankful for the technology to connect on Sundays in this way, I cannot rest there.
I am not content to just wait out the storm.
I believe that – for those of us who profess to follow the Way of Jesus Christ – the church is the essential service in a broken world, and this is our moment. Will we take hold of this God-ordained moment, unlike any in our lifetime, to experience God working in a creative and redemptive way in our world?
A wake-up call for the Church
Pandemics have a way of getting our attention. So do wars, famines, economic depressions and natural disasters.
They rouse us out of our comfortable status quo and cause us to ask life’s hardest questions.
History is replete with examples of Christians rising up to care for their neighbour in times of great uncertainty, even at the risk of their own peril. Throughout history, God has used times of crisis to draw people to Himself, often through the sacrificial love offered by Christians to those inside and outside their faith tradition.
As Christians, we live in light of Easter, trusting that, through suffering and death God creates new life. Jesus taught his followers to expect suffering – to welcome it even! “In this world you will have trouble,” he told them, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!” We who follow the way of Christ live in God’s redemptive story. New life is born in us and eternal life is promised to us because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Fear and anxiety are contagious in pandemics; the fear of death being the king of fears. With distractions and pretensions swept away, the topic of our mortality can enter the conversation.
Now is our opportunity to show our neighbours another way, the way of peace that passes all understanding.
In Christ, our ‘natural’ fear of death must answer to something greater: the reality of the resurrection, and the promise that our story does not end in death. We know that death is the finish line that begins a life that never ends with our loving God. In the midst of pandemic, death is not the taboo that it once was.
What might it mean to engage in conversations about mortality with a spirit of peace rather than fear?
Not a roadmap, but a compass
Moving forward must begin in prayer and be steeped in prayer.
There is no clear roadmap for this moment. We must wait on the Holy Spirit as our compass to form us and direct us.
Physical and social distancing restrictions call for us to be innovative in the way we connect with people. Most Christians have ready-made means of connection, such as small groups and triads. Churches, proving their adaptability, are using a variety of technology to build on what they have already been doing.
As we reach out to our colleagues, friends and neighbours, we can ask God for creative and effective ways to care. What we have done in the past to build relationships and trust will be foundational to moving forward as we rely on email, social media, phone calls and even snail mail. As I learned from my chaplaincy contacts, even the small gesture of a hand-written card can be a powerful reminder that someone cares.
Many people are hurting in a variety of ways at this time. Several recent conversations with friends have impressed upon me the need to reach out and initiate contact with people.
God is a relational God who created us to be in relationship. Who might God be laying on my heart to care for today?
Now is the time
Four years ago, I had the privilege of attending a retreat on Keats Island led by Rob Des Cotes, the founder of Imago Dei Christian Community. It turned out to be the last prayer retreat that the beloved pastor and spiritual director would lead. Rob succumbed to cancer shortly after that weekend retreat. Among the many gems of godly wisdom that Rob passed on to us, I remember what he said regarding having conversations about Jesus in our post-modern culture.
“It’s very hard to talk about Jesus. No one really wants to hear. Our works are what will speak today. But in another three to five years, be ready,” he predicted, “people will be coming to you, eager to hear what you have to share with them.”
Now, four years later, I cannot help but believe that this is the time of which Rob spoke with such conviction.
Will we grasp this opportunity and seek God for what he has for this time? Or will we pull aside and wait it out until things get back to “normal?”
As we confront mortality, why do our bishops have so little to say? - a podcast from The Spectator
Krista Barlow hails from Colorado but has spent more than 25 years living in the Comox Valley. She is a retired teacher and lifelong educator, previously working as a campus minister, educational assistant, and special education teacher. Krista holds academic degrees in the fields of Nutrition and Dietetics, Theology, and Education. In retirement, Krista wanted to focus her energies on activities she could pursue with purpose and passion—becoming a chaplain for the Town of Comox has been just that. She considers it a privilege to listen deeply and walk alongside the people who serve her community. For fun, Krista loves swimming, hiking and biking in and around the Comox Valley with her husband Dave. She’s also a huge fan of her grandson, his parents, and her daughter.