I have always treasured the writings of Henri Nouwen and many of his words have remained with me on my Christian journey and on my living in a context of church leadership. One of my favorite challenges and images from Nouwen, is if I was standing on the stage of my life, with no props, or costume, or script, would I be content to live on that stage with nothing but my relationship with Christ? Would every thing both good and bad that brings to me context and meaning, be meaningless in the light of knowing Christ? During this pandemic and turmoil Nouwen’s picture and challenge have often returned to my mind. What is the meaning of COVID rearranging a society and the Church? Personally, COVID did slow me down. Admittedly, cutting off a thumb aided the process. I found more time being with God. One day I just took an inventory of all the ways God has blessed my life. Another day, I took an inventory of my sins. Scripture has spoken louder to me.
During this season the call of the Old Testament prophets spoke the loudest. Whether Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or Jonah, there is this invitation to return to God. As Isaiah speaks for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel in chapter 30, he writes “return to me and rest” and “in quietness and trust” is first your salvation and then your strength. The Kingdom of Judah was in turmoil over whether or not to form an alliance with the Egyptians or the Assyrians. The people had become fear driven, making plans on how to escape, or who to escape to.. And once again God pleads for his people to return to Him and receive grace and mercy. There are seasons where God strips us of things; props, backdrops, and costumes, so we can stand, or kneel, or sit with Christ alone. Is my hope in alliances I can make, stuff that I call my own, my own script that I write, and does living in a COVID world reveal these futilities? On a barren stage, or at least a reduced one, partially empty, Christ is closer.
Not only is COVID and turmoil removing and reshuffling our personal props and backdrops, I believe the Holy Spirit is doing the same with the Church. There is a great reduction, and sifting in the Body of Christ. This is a time of jettisoning the props. Simple things become more important: baking bread, writing a note, a phone call and prayer. There are big questions about how to live as the Body Christ during a difficult season. There is grief that Christians can be angrily divided, entrenched in opinions and convictions. But all this need not prevail. When all the ways we have “done church” are put on hold, or rearranged, even questioned, we are more inclined to sit with Christ and value each other. The post-COVID church is a church that will need time to understand itself. Maybe our thinking, our presuppositions, will not be clear for another couple of years? There will be ripples upon ripples we have not even anticipated. And there will be temptations to try to “turn back the clock”, or “recapture what we were”. Or a longing for comforts that dishonor our Lord. There are proactive questions to ask our God, “What must we relinquish to receive your future?” “What are You saying to us?” "What do we need to repent of?” 'What do you wish to bless us with?” “How do we obey you?”
When I think of the Body of Christ, I believe we face an historic moment during this time of COVID fatigue and uncertainty. Maybe we are relinquishing Christendom and receiving Christ in a fresher and deeper way. The COVID meaning is finding again we have no Lord but Christ, no cause but the Gospel, no Truth except what Christ blesses us with. And really no control over immense events, no matter how many scripts we re-write and how many props we place around us. Maybe we are to be delivered from a world of potted plants and elevator music. For Christian and Church, COVID may mean we see Jesus Christ clearer and closer than if a pandemic had never arrived.
In Jesus name,
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