I realize this is the Lenten Season and we are just a few days from Palm Sunday and then Easter Sunday, and then…. But this is the Covid 19 Season, and Palm Sunday is not going to be celebrated with large groups of people gathered in buildings, waving Palms and singing hymns. Easter Sunday, if we are able to be some place suitable, we might be able to gather with a few in small groups, scattered across the area. We will not be standing shoulder to shoulder shouting: “He is Risen”; “He is Risen Indeed”. Does this change anything about what these days signify? Did the wheels on God’s bus suddenly come off? Is everything is now up for grabs? I don’t think so. I am convinced that God is still in control, he is still on his throne and that he is according to Romans 8:28, working things out for the good of those who love him. Does this mean I have the Covid 19 issue all neatly catalogued and figured out? Does this mean I understand the wisdom of God, and the result of this pandemic? Absolutely not! However, I am confident in this: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)
What prompted me to write this reflection was a personal experience that is related to the Virus Season as I am going to call this. This past January, due to the schedule I couldn’t go home for supper and return to Custer for the evening meeting. This is the slow season in Custer, evening eating establishments are rather limited, and that night I decided to give my business to the local Pizza Hut. I picked a table by the window and as I am waiting for my food, I notice a bank across the street advertising a Certificate of Deposit at an incredible rate. The ministry had put some funds into a bank account, and the board had been discussing moving our banking to a local bank for a time. That CD rate prompted the board to move a little money over. That seemed like a good business move. Now in the season of the “Virus” the Small Business Administration is offering support to businesses like this one, and my new local bank had sent an email describing this offer earlier this week. You may wonder what does Pizza Hut and Covid 19 have to do with one another. We might, but God was way ahead of me as he has been all along.
Back to Virus Time. Maybe it is time to lead our communities in some consideration of how the providence of God plays into our lives in the midst of virus, Palms and Resurrection. Not in a simplistic way, but recognizing the complexity of God’s actions in the world. I think this best reflected in this quote: “I get a little weary of these dear souls who have all the dealing and doing of Providence catalogued and correlated and figured out and can give you glib little answers to your heartache. They haven’t been far. God just doesn’t operate on our time table. And some of His operations don’t add up on our computers. The little boy who didn’t understand why God put so many vitamins in spinach and didn’t put more of them in ice cream had a pretty good idea that it just doesn’t work out like you’d think.” Give this a little bit of thought please. Why didn’t God put more vitamins in ice cream than spinach? Why doesn’t he just wave a finger and eliminate this virus from our world? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Why is there pain and suffering? You see when we begin to ponder the providence of God we soon have more questions than answers.
Allow me to circle around again, to what we have come to expect from Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, not to mention Holy Week in general. Have you given much thought to how these traditions came about? Did the first century Christians gather in large cathedrals, wave Palms, and go out early for Sunrise services in mass numbers? If my memory serves me right for many years, they were meeting in secret in catacombs, tombs, underground graveyards! Why? Because these places had special significance? Of course, not, they were hiding! It has only been after Constantine that the church has gathered in public buildings. Then not always and not everywhere. What we have taken for granted, and our “constitutional” right, has not always been the Christian experience. Might this Lenten/Easter season cause us to wonder what does it mean to be the Church of Jesus Christ today? I am thinking aloud here, but what happens if the time comes when it is due to public health or other issues that we can no longer assemble in large buildings? Will that destroy Christianity, or just our form of it? Might the technology that is now in place enable us to better disciple others and carry out the Great Commission? I wish I could answer definitively, but as I have said before God is not in the business of handing our road maps to his will and plan.
What is God up to? I am not even going to hazard a guess. What I do know is that God has not abandoned his people. That God is still on his throne, that as the body of Christ we are called to “…not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) With the current environment and maybe even into the future, we will have to once again redefine what it means to meet together and how to encourage one another. Maybe God is calling for the body of Christ to “leave the building” to go into the highways and byways to bring the good news of God’s grace. Maybe the era of the “salaried” full time pastor is ending. I don’t know, I am not making any predictions for forecasts. You see I am still puzzled by spinach and ice cream.
What do I do know is that the God who called us is faithful. That his plan is always perfect, and he is not in the habit of tipping his hand so we can see what cards will be played next. I learned a number of years ago that when God calls us to be his disciples he does not give us a road map. He invites us to come and follow me. I remember as a teen or a young 20 something listening to a speaker describe his commitment to follow Christ. His analogy was God offering a blank contract, asking him to sign and God would fill in the details later. Once again, we stand in the midst of confusing times, but if we have offered our lives to God he is currently filling in the blanks. For now, I invite you to follow me in trusting the providence of the God loves us and has called us according to his purpose!