More normal than we think
So it looks like COVID is hanging around… we’re not going back to normal for the foreseeable, if ever. Things are different, the new normal will be the normal for a while and church for many will be a TV or phone thing, at least for a time yet. Two things seem extra apparent under this cloud.
Firstly, we’re going to miss it… you may not be feeling this yet, I know. Sundays are pretty cosy at the mo and I’m with you on this, I’m enjoying the couch too, but there is something really essential about us coming together, we’re missing out. More on this in a bit.
Second, we’ve still got to get through, we need to keep the faith, we need to prosper, we need to grow, we need to look out for each other as much as we can, we need to be church as much as we can.
A penny dropped for me this week; whilst being apart is not normal for us, it’s pretty normal in the story of God’s people. Much of the time God’s people are scattered. Being together or meeting easily was a long way off for the early church. It was similar to now, with the added threat of being thrown to the lions. Paul’s letters to the new testament church are not addressed to people who could pop over to the church every Sunday. They’re addressed to people hiding in homes or meeting in alleyways in secret, people scattered over cities who would see each other or know about each other but for whom meeting up as Christians would often be impossible. Sound familiar? Have a look at how Paul signs off his letter to the church in Rome.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among[d] the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them — Romans 16:3–15
Do you see what kind of church it was? They were scattered, they were disconnected, but they were the church and Paul writes to remind them of this. A whole chapter dedicated to a disparate bunch, little communities, families, tiny house churches, where a few different people were stepping up or being encouraged to step up and keep the faith.
Paul signs off many of his letters like this, much of his letter has in mind the struggles of these disparate groups, and bare in mind these letters are the shapers for church today. Our identity is not in our steeples or our grandiose buildings, nice and helpful though they are, it’s in the people and how they come together and stick together in Christ. Paul says to this scared scattered bunch looking at the monuments and cathedrals of the Roman Empire wondering how the church will ever survive;
you’re the church, you’re still together in Christ and the good news about him will be enough to strengthen you and get you through! (Romans 16:25)
This is our challenge up to Christmas and beyond. To stick together in Christ; even though we can only do it 6 at a time, or over Zoom or by a phone call or watching together online. We’re still the church. To remember that it’s Jesus that strengthens us; he will establish us and as before, we’ll endure, even thrive.
This church (in Rome) is written to again (maybe by Paul, maybe not) about similar circumstances. Hebrews tells of a church that’s separated and hanging on, even thinking about giving up. The words of advice spoken to them are perfect for us.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing ,but encouraging one another — all the more as you see the day approaching — Hebrews 10:22–25
Get nearer to God. Hang on to the hope you have. Jesus is trustworthy. Inspire each other towards loving actions. Don’t give up on meeting together, hold out for it. Encourage each other. Focus on the eternal goal!
What is he saying? You’re still the church, keep going, keep the faith.
I miss church, I really need it. It’s not so much the obvious stuff either; I miss the routine of it, I miss gathering under God’s word of course but it’s the little accidental things I’m aching for. The moments of God’s presence, His nearness amongst our fellowship and when I realise I’m drawn nearer to him by the truths I’m hearing. The encouragement of a busy building with children running around and care in the air; people giving out “aye ups” and “how are yous?” The hope that comes when we sing together in celebration and in tough times. The hope that comes with being drawn to something bigger than my problems, bigger than my imagination. It spurs me on. I need it.
This is our lot for now! Maybe for a while. The new normal, for Christians it’s more normal than most. Paul says; you’re still the church; you, watching over in Wakey, the folk in that WhatsApp group in Cas, the woman who’s been faithful for years or you out on your own.
You’re the church, you stick together in Christ, he’s got enough strength for you!
Ash Gibson, Pastor, Christchurch Xscape