As I write these words, I am focused on the ways the coronavirus is impacting our ability to experience community. We can’t be with one another in the ways we have come to expect, and that is hard and difficult and painful.
We can’t shake the hand of a friend. Or hug a family member. We can’t gather for a spontaneous cup of coffee or meal at our favorite coffee shop or restaurant. Relatives in assisted care facilities can’t see their children or grandchildren. In some cases, spouses in these types of facilities are isolated from one another. We worry about the health of those we love.
Here at church, we haven’t been able to gather together for worship—surrounded by our brothers and sisters, joining our voices together to praise God. We haven’t been able to catch up over a donut and coffee in Fellowship Hall following worship. We haven’t been able to receive communion: “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
We miss and hunger for the type of in-person community which, if we’re honest, perhaps we have taken for granted.
And yet—in the midst of all of this—we are finding ways to stay connected. Virtual meetings are replacing meetings that have typically happened in person. Families are finding ways to convene video conferences to stay in touch. Calls and emails and social media correspondence are becoming lifelines to reinforce the relationships we share.
And even if we can’t gather physically together in our sanctuary, we are still connecting as an on-line community during our weekly Sunday morning services, through our new daily prayer services, and via countless other offerings that are springing up as we creatively try to reinforce and celebrate—and yes, even strengthen—the beautiful community we share here at St. Philip the Deacon. Through all of these, we are discovering new ways to “be together” even while we are apart.
Paul, while imprisoned and away from the Christian community at Philippi, wrote them to tell them how much he missed them all: “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.” They were part of his community. Part of his family. And he grieved that he could not, at that moment, be with them.
He recognized, though, that his imprisonment—his distance from them—was actually helping to accomplish God’s work. “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel.”
Do not misunderstand me. I don’t for a moment wish that any of this has happened. I miss all of you. I long to see you face to face. I look forward to the day when we can gather together again as God’s people to raise our voices in prayer and song.
Until that day, though, I pray that God is already at work in us—already at work in you—to strengthen the relationships we have with one another and with God.
I pray that—when we do come back together—we will be stronger, not weaker. I pray that we will be closer to one another than we have ever been. I pray that we will be ready to share God’s love in new and unprecedented ways—just as we are living through new and unprecedented times. And I pray that we will be so filled with gratitude for the amazing community we share—and that we so deeply miss—that we will never take it for granted again.
Grace and Peace,