I printed out bulletins and had the older girls set up children’s church in the dining room. We gathered in the den—some still in pj’s, Bradley with a cup of coffee, and the kids in bean bags on the floor. The sound coming through the TV was terrible, but we stuck with it, grumbling to one another to be quiet and stop moving around so we could try to hear the call to worship. One kid asked for a snack right in the middle of the confession of sin, and another moved to his bedroom to play Legos. Live streaming church from our den during COVID-19 yesterday was an interesting experience, to say the least.
But as I stood there singing songs with my family, I couldn’t help but think back to the days when I lived in China. Our team there was small—at most 15 people—which included several young children. We each brought our bibles, a dish to share, and whoever hosted each week had a sermon picked out and ready to play in the cassette player. It was the year 2000, y’all. We would place our contribution to the meal in the kitchen, pull up chairs in the living room, and sit down for worship. My sister, dad and I were often in charge of the music and I found myself, at eighteen, playing the piano for our worship services from the old gray hymnal and writing out chord charts for songs we couldn’t find. Church in a closed country had nothing to do with a building or programs and everything to do with a group of believers gathering together to meet.
Isn’t this what church is supposed to be?
We returned to the US after six months in China, and I remember going to church and weeping. It was overwhelming to stand with such a large group of believers to sing, hear the preaching of God’s word, share testimonies of God’s grace, and offer hugs and words of encouragement across the aisles and in the parking lot. Those months of worshiping in a living room were rich and we grew together, but I had sorely missed the larger gathering of God’s people.
Yesterday, as the eight of us stood singing and reciting the Nicene Creed, I felt blessed for the access to our pastor and the worship team. I felt the privilege of our religious freedom and the ability to exercise our rights. But I also felt a deep sense of loss.
I missed my brothers and sisters from church.
Perhaps by being forced to physically separate from God’s people we will grow to believe that we need God’s people—as messy and broken as we may be. Believe me, I’ve experienced the church’s imperfections—I’m part of them. But for all the ways we may have been hurt or disillusioned by the church, we still need her. We’re still called to serve her. We’re meant to build her up. We’re meant to be a part of her.
Because “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
We the church, have a job to do. It’s a collective job. One that requires more than me by myself living out my faith. We need our brothers and sisters here in our communities, across the world, and the ones who have gone before us. We who are in Christ are brought together as one body to proclaim Christ.
We the church, have a job to do and we’re not finished.
No one knows how long our church doors will be closed. We may go weeks and months without gathering with other believers. It’s going to be hard, lonely, and we may grow discouraged. But perhaps one of the gifts COVID-19 offers us is the opportunity to rekindle our love for the church. Not the building, not the music, not the programs we enjoy, but the people who make it up. And as our affections for one another are stirred up, may these days generate within us a burning desire to make much of the name of Jesus.
His name is great and he is worthy of our praise.