This was the second Sunday that the coronavirus pandemic prevented our congregation from worshiping together in person. It was another strange Sunday, to be sure. Last Sunday, I reflected on how strange it was to think of all the silent, empty churches around the world. This week was different. My Facebook feed was filled with churches offering online worship services from churches all around the country. And I bet yours was, too.
With more preparation time this week, our congregation was also able to record an online worship service, rather than simply a written order of worship and sermon. And it was wonderful to see so many of our church families able to worship in their homes with this service. It’s not the same as being there, of course, but it is a step closer. (By the way, my wife and I worshiped with our Synod’s online worship service, rather than our congregation’s, because watching myself on TV just felt strange!)
To be honest, though, this past Sunday was a little sad for me, too. The reality of not being able to worship together seemed heavier to me; more real, somehow. But sadness was just one of the many emotions that I experienced. Gratitude as well, to see so many trying to be church in this new way. And hope, too, as I see how important our faith in God is to so many people around the world. For some time, we have heard and read about the church in our country being in decline – becoming less important, more marginalized, and facing an uncertain future. The future is always uncertain, in some ways. But if this pandemic is teaching me anything, it is that the church is alive and well. Because the church is you and me, praying for one another, finding creative ways to connect to one another, and sharing our hope with those around us.
There may be empty churches, in other words, but not empty prayers. The people of God are praying like never before, and if that doesn’t give us hope, nothing will. Because God hears our prayers. “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective,” James tells us (James 5:16). And lest you think you are not righteous, Paul reminds us that the righteous are simply those who live by faith (Romans 1:17), which is all of us. Faith is what will pull us through this crisis – faith and trust in a God who promises never to leave us or forsake us. And that faith and trust in God, and the prayers rising from that faith, are powerful and effective, because God is powerful and effective.
So, as I reflect on this second strange Sunday, what I am truly grateful for is to see just active God is in the midst of this crisis, through the church; through you and me. So, I am going to keep stumbling my way through YouTube and other new means of communicating, and I am going to cheer on my fellow pastors and church leaders who are doing the same. And I am going to continue to be thankful to all of God’s people who are sharing their faith on social media, checking on neighbors and loved ones, and raising prayers to God on behalf of a hurting, anxious world.