We are living in extraordinary times. Our life circumstances are new and challenging. Who would have thought that within less than three months of 2020 the entire world has changed? Yet while the coronavirus pandemic is significant, and death is associated with it, it is not something that we should panic about. The global numbers contracting the virus are significant. In Australia the numbers are rapidly rising. However, most people will only display mild to moderate symptoms, with a small number being severe and critical stages. As of 24 Mar, of the 2010 Australian cases, 1999 are classified as mild with only 11 being severe. The infection rate is evenly spread across genders and the age demographic of Australia. Those in 20-30 age group with the virus are similar in number as those in the 60-70 age group. That doesn’t mean we should be complacent, or ignorant of the reality we face.
A broad variety of emotions surround how we feel about the situation, the job losses, the shutting down of the economy, the government and the way people are behaving. People feel angry, disappointed, confused, and unsure. Some have panicked, been abusive, while others have been apathetic and displayed cavalier complacency.
The closure of churches has raised serious concerns. I for one do not think the church is a “non-essential” aspect of our society. The negative message this conveys saw me having to argue with nursing staff just so I could see one of our members in hospital. At no other time in our history, has faith become a critical component to our lives. In the face of despair, isolation, uncertainty and growing anxiety, we need a “rock “to cling to.
Psalm 18:2 – “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Just because we can’t meet at our church building doesn’t mean we still aren’t the church. The church is more than a building. The church is the body of Christ, and as that body we have hope that no matter what challenges we face we will still be the church. We need to be the “rock” of faith that speaks hope into our confused and uncertain world.
As you think about church currently, remember we are more than a social gathering. While we enjoy getting together at ladies Guild or Fellowship, men’s breakfast, prayer groups, and the various other groups in which we enjoy each other’s company, we are first and foremost people of the Word. That Word is both proclaimed and enacted. We are more than people who just read the Bible without explanation or meaning. It must be proclaimed through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.
Jesus ministry was a proclamation of the Gospel in word and action, to all those who would hear him. All the Gospels speak about Jesus preaching (e.g. Mk 1:35-39). But Jesus doesn’t just preach, he sends out his disciples to do the same (Mk 3:14, 16:20). This continues through the book of Acts, as the disciples and early church went about preaching the Gospel wherever they went. It was important for them to explain the Old Testament fulfilment in the words and work of Christ. People were hungry to know and understand, as in Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26ff). Paul affirms this in Romans 10:14,17.
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
As we see in Jesus ministry, and that of the Apostles, preaching the Word is more than just words. It is a lived-out activity as people are touched physically with the Word, being healed, forgiven, and restored. Today we experience this in our sacramental life, which holds equal status for Lutherans as preaching the Word. Just as we believe the Holy Spirit speaks God’s Word into our lives through preaching, so too do we believe that the Holy Spirit draws us into the real presence of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour through the Sacraments. There is no symbolism here, or a re-enactment of a past event. This is not a magical act, or couched in irreconcilable superstition. When Jesus says do this in remembrance of me (Mt 26:25-27, Mk 14:22-23, Lk 22:19-20, 1 Cor 11:24-26) we believe we are at one with him at His table with archangels, angels and all the hosts of heaven. For us, the Lord’s supper is participation in the presence of Jesus, that forgives, heals, restores, blesses and unifies us with one another, and all of heaven (Rev 4 & 5).
The challenge before us is how we practice what we believe in the context of this pandemic when we are no longer permitted to meet in one place, or even allowed to leave our homes? It is too easy to do nothing and simply hide in our homes until we’re told to come out again. But can we allow the church to denigrate into some isolated disengaged entity that disconnects us from God and each other? We are being told we can’t celebrate the sacrament based on rules of hygiene, and that all we can do is read our Bible or undertake some “liturgy of the Word” at home, and that will be enough.
I don’t believe we can do that. We need to come together at this time, and not isolate ourselves. We need unity, hope, and encouragement, even if the very means, the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered, are obstructed. Consequently, the pastoral leadership of our community, after much prayer and consideration have decided we will try and be church in whatever way we can. That means finding a way for you to hear God’s Word and be in Christ’s presence, as dislocated as we are from each other.
To do this we have set up a means by which to be in regular contact with you. We want to hear from you, as much as we want you to hear from us. We also encourage you to be active and intentional about ringing others, even if you don’t know them. What a wonderful opportunity for you to get to know everyone in our community by giving them a phone call and asking them if they are OK.
We have given you a service order, which we pray you will use at the same time as everyone else in our community – 9.30am Sunday morning. While you may be tempted to do it at another time, the simplicity and beauty of knowing that you are doing it at the same time as everyone else in our community is a sign of unity within our dislocated context.
We will give you a sermon, like this one, and make it available for you to hear, see, or read. We will also provide you with two hymns or songs, in recorded music and written, which you can sing. Your first point of contact for these will be our website. If you don’t have access to that let your Pastoral Carer contact know, or ring the church office, and we will get it to you.
We have also given you a packet of consecrated wafers. We don’t want you to use your own bread, instead, knowing that the wafer is consecrated and that everyone else in our community is using the same wafers we use when we are together, is again a sign of unity we want you to cherish. We can’t do this with the wine, so we ask you to use your wisdom and judgement in providing this yourselves.
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 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? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1Cor 10:14-17)
Maybe, once the service is done, your household can have morning tea, and maybe you can ring each other and talk about the experience of worshipping in this way.
We understand that some may feel uncomfortable with this. We also know that there are some in the wider church who disagree with this approach. This is a step-in faith, seeking God’s blessing as a community, uniting us in this shared experience. We pray that this is short lived, and we can come together again, whether that be in small home groups, or as a larger community.
4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:1-6)
May our Lord watch over you during this time. May he protect you and keep you safe. May we together, watch out for each other, and be the hope and encouragement we need, not just for us, but for those around us.
In Christ, Amen.