Rev. Dr. Steven Yagerman
We find God in the Loving Response of Humans
After the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70, Judaism had to reimagine and in a sense reinvent itself as its center had suddenly shifted. Although we have no such central symbol in Christianity, we have long understood ourselves as the Body of Christ that gathers in church and is constituted by shared sacred rituals, the Holy Eucharist being our central and defining corporate act.
Now, for nearly a year, we have had our defining space and ritual wrenched away from us. Had this pandemic happened a generation earlier, we might have relegated our corporate faith and identity to a beloved memory, a mere relic of the past. Perhaps we would have found some means of sustaining, but it is hard to imagine what those means might have been.
As it is, we have found new ways of assembling and constituting ourselves as a church, A.K.A. the Body of Christ. As we gather around our separate screens, by the power of modern technology, we see and hear each other as we read sacred scriptures, listen to sacred music and speak sacred prayers in each other’s virtual presence.
In some ways we have learned to see each other more deeply and hear each other more profoundly. We see into each other’s homes, we face each other when we speak. There is an equal footing when we share our prayers and our joys and concerns with each other at various times in the liturgy.
In our varying degrees of social isolation, it seems to me that we are learning to value each other, see each other and care for each other in ways that might have been easier to avoid or overlook with traditional church.
I do think we are evolving in our ability to share and communicate through our technology. There will be more breakthroughs, more options, perhaps more standardization of technique and perhaps more hybrid activities. One such activity is the fact that we have adjusted our soup kitchen to hand out approximately as many hot meals as use to serve at tables. We are constantly learning, we are always evolving.
With the advent of the vaccines and other preventative behaviors, it is my hope that we will see the end of this horrific pandemic come to a close before too long. Yet, when it does, it is likely we will never be the same again. We will have learned and grown to see what is most meaningful and essential in maintaining and expanding Christian identity, practice and witness. We will find ways of incorporating the deeper intimacy we have begun to experience. We will work to invite those homebound into the larger “house of worship.” We will sense that we have the potential to spread our ministry to all corners of the nation and the world. We will be live and virtual!
No one would wish this plague on anyone. No one can rejoice in the midst of a crisis that has taken the lives of a half million (and counting) of our fellow citizens. Yet we have come to understand that God is not the God who creates or prevents crises. But rather we honor the God who suffers with us through these crises. Moreover, we find God in the loving responses by humans as they seek to respond to the real human needs of others with compassion, mercy and a constant call to justice.
As we begin this Lent together, let us continue the work of redefining and reestablishing ourselves as the Body of Christ in our current novel situation.