“Moses said to the people: ‘Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.'”
Can you keep a secret?
I’m practicing my faith!
Every day and week that passes from the apex and summit of the COVID-19 pandemic in which we found ourselves immersed and almost overwhelmed at times, we discover that there are more and more insights and reflections to be had and digested. While there is always a risk of alienating and even angering some of any given position on the spectrum of opinions about the whole matter, we should still be confident enough to express our thoughts and ideas, especially in a forum such as this. So here we go.
Although it may not be apparent or obvious to some, there does seem to be a level of inequality, or at least disparity, about how the pandemic has shut some aspects of our lives, and compartmentalized them in an unusual fashion, which has caused even more to question what the motivation was or the rationale behind such moves. Here we are talking about the closure, even the prolonged cessation of places of worship, no matter what the alliance or persuasion. While many other types of businesses were allowed to remain open with some similar amounts of clientele and consumers, churches were somehow held to a different and questionable standard. To help better situate our position, let’s take a look at two interesting comments that reveal a certain analysis and narrative about the subject at hand. In two very different parts of the country, the following kinds of conversations took place. The first one had to do with the lack of outrage or disappointment with the inability to worship and be with others at prayer.
Friend 1: “A couple of us are trying to get together for prayer.”
Friend 2: “Oh no way! It’s too dangerous.”
Friend 1: “You don’t want to join us?”
Friend 2: “Absolutely not, and you better think twice!”
Friend 1: “Aren’t you still going to the packed grocery store?”
Friend 2: “I gotta eat!”
Then there is this official announcement about the partial reopening of some churches in another part of the country that caused many to remain scratching their heads and the sheer puzzlement of it all: “All citizens are cautioned about engaging in any religious ceremonies over the weekend. A list of worship locations has been posted but please note there will be no reciting of prayers or other communal group activities such as singing.”
No one is or should be disputing the great care one must take in the wake of any spread of infectious diseases. There is clearly no discussion about the proper care we must take to safeguard life for the safety of individuals and for society at-large. The problem is that it has not been consistent. It is almost as if a certain segment of the population was singled out for a more rigid, even draconian approach to safety for the sake of all.
In an analogous way, the same could be said of the rationale used by several Roman emperors and other authorities in our human history. Praying and gathering in prayer was seen as dangerous to the welfare of the larger mass of people. Not for the disease aspect but because it represented a detachment from the control and management of the powerful and wealthy. This could, and might, explain the rich phenomenon of the catacombs, still venerated in Rome, reminding the world of the extent that those who believed would go to gather and worship and be with their God, yes, even in community, even though it was in secret, (and also with the threat of discovery and certain death). Thank God Almighty that we do not have to, nor will we even attempt this part of the discussion. Let others do that. And believe me, they are already fully engaged. Our focus is quite different. While we have not real control over the outcome of any of this, we do have a tremendous amount of responsibility as to the process. How else to say that? What are we to do?
“Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.”
First and foremost, we cannot forget who we are and whom we worship. The Lord God has done everything for us and has continually shown us His great love for each and every one of us. Every good gift comes from His hand, especially the many healings that have taken place during this awfully frightening time.
“He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.”
Perspective, dear, perspective. Here is a difficult point to convey: at the end of all our worlds, we are all going to die of something. How do you want to die? In fear? In cowardly, relinquishing everything that you hold dear and important? What will it take for us to surrender our very character and identity? Before we allow this piece to be detoured by a tangent of rights and demands, first think about the place of faith and the Word of God. If, for whatever reason, we were kept from practicing our faith in public, what kept us from practicing and praying in private? This is similar to the classic response of those who say that they do not need to go to church to worship God because they can do that at home, or even in their backyard. But does that even happen?
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”
Now that life seems to be inching back to normal, the traditional gathering places such as grocery stores, hardware, and DIY locales, restaurants, beaches, and parks are beginning to fill up once again in huge and record numbers. However, the same is not true with places of worship. It seems that many are still in the catacombs as a result of the fear and dictates of those around them. And the realistic fear on the part of some church leaders is that this will become the norm even as the same folks are marching forward to other places in droves as if nothing ever happened.
“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
One more migration must take place, and all this is quite Biblical both in meaning and in proportion: from the catacomb to the Upper Room. When we mention the Upper Room, we are referring to that place which was first mentioned in 1 Chronicles when King David gave his son Solomon the plans for the temple which contained a unique place of quiet and prayer. It was more than just that, really. It was a place where the expectation was clear and definite to have an intimate moment with God and allow that time to feed and instruct and empower the Christian for the road and the life ahead. Of course, the most famous and critical important location is where the Apostle stayed when they were in Jerusalem. This is the place where the Last Supper took place and amidst that moment there included the quintessential act of loving service where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. It is also the same room where Jesus appeared, both before and after the Resurrection, at which point He made his wounds visible and accessible to be seen and touched. This was also the place of Pentecost and the birth of the Church as we know it.
So instead of hiding and staying away from others who love the Lord Jesus, this has become a time to move from the catacombs-way-of-living to the Upper Room-way-of-acting. This time must be a complete renewal of each one of us to create and develop those intimate moments and those special times and places with Jesus and then, as His Mother told us, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) The implications of all of this are simply remarkable. What we are suggesting is an entirely new structuring of one’s day. This would necessarily begin with a complete and honest assessment of how we are currently spending our days. How much time are we actually quiet and by quiet we mean unattached from social media and other devices that fill our hearts and minds with such mental dribble that we are exhausted even though we’ve never left the sofa. It means declaring to ourselves the desire to be patient and wait upon the Lord to respond in His good time when it is fitting and right. That will be difficult but not impossible. It will mean that we become accountable to each other in the settings in which we find our lives. For some, this could be family members. For others, close friends and still for others, a kind of community where truth and honesty have the chance to grow into something worthwhile and life-changing. Sounds like the early Church, doesn’t it?
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
If anything deep and meaningful will surface because of what we are experiencing with viral diseases and this modern-day pestilence, it must reconfigure our ideals about life and what we want to do with them. What is clear is that something has to change before the next crisis. Life is to be lived fully and with a gaze toward our place in Heaven. Just think about it. What will any of this matter if we gain the whole world and lose eternal happiness? And it must start with me. What have I done during this time and what would I have done differently? What do I want to teach my children and express to those closest to me? These are great questions that beg for real answers. Social distancing created a needed distance from the world and a closeness to the world of faith. This is where Jesus lives. I desperately want to live there also.
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“The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.” Victor Hugo