Public worship has been a hallmark of the Christian church from the beginning. Jesus’ example was to gather with others for worship. But now in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, many churches are suspending public, in-person worship services. It seems a wise and loving thing to do in light of the dangers of the virus. And, it goes without saying that our suspension of public worship is a great loss. But it needs to be lamented. Too often people are extolling the blessings of this new normal and speaking of how the church’s mission continues without acknowledging the loss that is part of the picture.
I urge us to truly lament the fact that we’re not able to gather for worship. This is a very difficult time and our properly self-imposed retreat from public gathering for worship has hit us hard on many levels. It hurts emotionally. It leaves a hole physically because of the lack of human contact. It stymies us spiritually because we don’t experience the mutual encouragement we receive through the Sunday morning interaction in worship. Online live stream worship is a poor substitute and isn’t connecting as many people as we had hoped. It makes me sad even to write this.
Cessation of public worship is a major loss and it cripples our Christian life. I pray that the Church will be just like when Mao removed all the missionaries from China and took away their Bibles: the believers went underground and continued to meet (in smaller groups), and grew beyond anyone’s expectation. We can pray that God’s people will find ways to express what is recorded in Acts of the new believers:
The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. 43 A feeling of fear came over everyone as many amazing things and miraculous signs happened through the apostles. 44 All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. 45 From time to time, they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it. 46 The believers had a single purpose and went to the temple every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. 47 At the same time, they praised God and had the good will of all the people. Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group. – Acts 2:42-47
Let’s pray for the day when we can do all these things without restriction, and in the meantime pray that God’s people will stay faithful in prayer, loving acts of kindness, witness, and give as they are able. Let’s do all we can to defeat this disease and return to public worship when it’s all over. Let’s also lament the very real loss we’re experiencing and call out to God for mercy! I fear we’re ignoring the loss in our efforts to put a positive spin on the things we are able to do. I don’t want to be only a wailing prophet, but there is a time to mourn. As we do so, may we remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” May it be so!