Could the distance draw us closer?
A couple Sundays ago, we did something as a congregation that is highly unusual for St. Paul Lutheran: we canceled worship. In its place, an online service was produced and the day we would have gathered collectively, an assortment of building and ministry staff hung out in a nearly empty gathering space just in case anyone stopped by. I was one in the assortment.
I showed up about the time I normally do for work, but this particular Sunday was quite different. Some guests who showed up just hadn’t gotten the news. They came expecting worship and instead were greeted by all their pastors at once. Some came to drop off their offering. Others just wanted to seize an opportunity to stop by, step onto the holy ground that is their church, and say hi. I was able that morning to recite the Lord’s Prayer with some visitors, snap a photo of some staff members greeting one another with a socially-distant elbow bump, and have a lengthy chat with another church member about the Lutheran formation of his young adulthood and also learn about his brother’s work as a pastor in rural Africa and the interpretive work he did with the Bible in various foreign languages.
Once while rapt in an intense conversation with my spiritual director, I mentioned a quote about evangelism that I love. She recognized the author of the book I was referencing and said, “He was a colleague of my father!” And then, smiling, “the church is so small.”
She didn’t mean that the church was small-minded or lacked vision. Instead, she meant that even though we are vast and scattered all over the globe, we have this connection because of Christ; this shared narrative because of our Creator.
All of this has gotten me thinking that at times, the distance draws us closer. Like the Apostle Paul and the church he founded in Philippi – somehow, they thrived in their Christian community even while apart. They shared a deep love and a joy not because circumstances were optimal, but because the Lord sustained them and the community nourished them. There is such a richness in this biblical letter.
One of my favorite passages from the final chapter is this: I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at least you have revived your concern for me; indeed you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
May we find the same nourishment in these strange times.