Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4
Recently I had the privilege of being one of first invitees to come back to my church after eleven weeks of “attending” on line. We are coming back in limited groups, different people each service for a while; those who aren’t there in person can still live stream on line.
As much as I wanted to charge full speed back into church life as I’d remembered it, there were certain rules to be followed now, and I dutifully took one last deep breath of fresh air before donning my face mask upon arrival.
Although we all wore the masks from the moment we left our cars, we could still recognize one another. (I resisted the urge to say, “Trick or treat!”) Walking up the steps to the church entrance, it felt like forever since we had been there, and at the same time it felt as though no time had passed at all.
There was no cluster of people around the table in the foyer that usually held the bulletins, and the coffee stations looked sad with hand sanitizer in lieu of their usual fare. We walked directly into the sanctuary and picked up sterile bulletins from where we sat down. Every other pew was blocked off, and seating was spaced with 6-foot gaps between families. People were discouraged from using the rest rooms, which were limited to just one person at a time.
Watching a service on line, I had always sung along at home with the “socially distanced” worship team appearing across the screen (four singers, a piano, and a couple of guitars). I had sung with gusto, filling my living room the best I could. But somehow my “joyful noise” had been lacking.
However, that night at church when the music started with about a third of the usual congregation, I was overjoyed to hear us all singing the familiar songs again. I was surprised at how well our voices carried through the masks, complete with four-part harmony, some of us with hands lifted toward heaven. It felt like being in God’s throne room. Although it wasn’t close to the experience we used to enjoy, it was such a blessing just to be together again that I had happy tears in my eyes. Later I heard the pastor get choked up, too, as he led us in prayer.
I remember reading somewhere that when people have been starving for extended periods of time, it is a very bad idea to gorge on food as soon as it’s available. It’s reportedly healthier – and I would think, more gratifying – to take a little at a time and savor each bite, while the stomach gets used to being fed again.
Yes, I am REALLY looking forward to the day we can all gather again with no one left out, singing with smiles uncovered, enjoying hugs, hand-shakes, fist-bumps, high fives, whatever your thing is. We’ll “catch up” on one another’s lives over cups of coffee, while our children and grandchildren run around together, laughing and playing. We’ll lay hands on the sick and gather in small huddles to offer up impromptu prayers for one another. We’ll feast on the fellowship we’ve been missing during our times of isolation.
But for now, I’m happy to taste the morsels of joy I’ve missed so much – the smiling eyes peeking out from masked faces, familiar voices, and gestures of “virtual hugs” from friends long absent. I’m trying to exercise patience and savoring the moments as they come.
If we take our blessings back one at a time, we have a better chance to truly appreciate each one, not to mention showing respect and compassion for those whose fragile health might still be making them uneasy about rejoining the community.
The fact that there are different opinions about the closing down of our society has become painfully obvious. It seems some people with opposing viewpoints are at each other’s throats, one side accusing the other of not caring if they die of Covid, and the other accusing anyone who disagrees with them of not caring if they go bankrupt and die homeless on the street. (I’m about to take a break from social media. I need a breather.)
I would describe myself as neither a terrified recluse or a defiant protester. As a friend used to say, “I’m a staunch middle-of-the-roader.” I believe and hope that there is a way to gather safely, to be the much-needed support system for one another, while at the same time being respectful of those who are still frightened of the virus.
(Sometimes I feel like I’ve had it, and I want to scream at the Corona virus, like a child having a tantrum, “JUST LEAVE US ALONE!!!” But obviously if that strategy had had any chance of working, someone would have done it by now.)
So for now, we take back our privileges as they become available, savoring each one, each moment, as a gift from the Giver of Life. As we set aside our preferences to show consideration to the needs of others, we have an opportunity to grow in the “fruits of the Spirit,” such as patience and self control. With God’s help, we can benefit from the experience ourselves, as we can from every life experience when we give it to Him.
Prayer: Father in heaven, we confess that some of us get impatient with what we consider partial blessings. We long to get back to the full experience of fellowship with the Body of Christ. And yet we remember how Your Son Jesus suffered the separation from You as He hung on the cross to pay for our sins. Give us patience and a selfless, Christ-like attitude as we ease back into the blessed life we enjoyed and took for granted before – and may we never take it for granted again! In Jesus’ name, Amen.