Stay-at-home orders are being adjusted and the usual places in our lives are opening again. In California, depending on which county you live in, you can even get a haircut (which does not excite me one bit). As we engage and move into our new future, it might be helpful to keep an eye on the past.
Memorial Day was a good reminder of this. One of my dear friends posted a meme on Facebook with two beach scenes, one crowded with revelers the other a war zone. The text read: your day at the beach brought to you by their death on the beach. It is a good reminder, in the U.S. at least, we enjoy freedoms because they have been routinely secured by the ultimate sacrifice of others. If only we used our “freedom” for more than revelry!
Shifting gears to think about how this relates to the church. In California, again depending on your county, churches are now able to meet in person with restrictive guidelines. You can’t engage in wild revelry but you can gather around the word in groups again. For many wearing a mask during the whole service or having their temperature taken at the door will be too much to bear and they will choose not to come. For some, it will be wiser to stay home and continue to worship via the internet. Others will gladly follow the guidelines and worship in what will surely be an awkward arrangement.
While this moment is unique to us, and feels like one restriction too far, we follow the lineage of Christians who have (and still do) face much harsher circumstances to worship together. Pentecost occurred in a prayer room where disciples of Jesus gathered because they were concerned they would be arrested. Third century Christians descended into the depths of Rome to sing of Jesus among the buried dead in order to avoid persecution. And down the line of history, believers have sacrificed themselves to care for plague victims, they have huddled in dingy and dark places to remind each other of the grace of Christ and eternal life in him, they have faced arrest, harassment, and death because they had a love that was sweeter than life.
Truth be told, prohibitions on crowd size and instructions to wear masks is not the persecution we were looking for. Currently, movie theaters are more persecuted than the church. So with an eye to the past, we don our masks and take our temperatures and join in the cloud of witnesses that have faced the awkward, hard, and even brutal to worship Jesus with other believers.