Among my modest achievements two weeks into our time in the US: caught up on Netflix (Anne with an E and Broadchurch if you must know); bought a car without actually touching it; virus-free visits with friends, in their driveways, socially distant, sitting in chairs we carry around in the boot of the car and bringing our own food; and completing 14 days of isolation. And, thanks to the strategic wiles of my brother in law Gary, we actually managed to obtain toilet paper.
We finally checked into a flight on Wednesday, 25 March. That was six days before our original, long-ago reserved flights had been cancelled or changed three times, all because of the coronavirus and accompanying airline chaos. Hours spent on hold – it might’ve been days but I lost track in the delirium – and countless conversations later, we were finally booked on the last flight out “until May” on United Airlines according to the employee who checked us in. The transatlantic leg of the flight was nearly empty and we – armed with wipes and sanitising gel – wiped down our seats, tray tables and screens in “an abundance of caution.” I’m sure we looked like escapees from the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder unit.
We felt silly. Why, when everyone else is self-isolating and when there are so many significant conversations to be had among our nervous friends and neighbours, would we leave? Why go now when it meant isolating ourselves once we arrived? Why have to get a last-minute, more-expensive-than-I’d-like AirBnB to avoid putting family members at risk? It all seemed unnecessary but it had been insisted we needed to make the trip as planned, virus or no virus, before the 31st of March. One of us – I’ll not say who! – felt the need to explain to everyone we were being made to travel against our will.
The verses God gave us were unambiguous and much-needed. They stuck to us like glue – or maybe we stuck to them. For me the key one was Isaiah 33.6:
And He shall be the stability of your times,
a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge.
Stability. During a time of high anxiety. That has been a necessary anchor for us.
During all this there’s quite a bit of The Church Is Still The Church talk, as Michael observed a week or two ago. I’d come at that from the other direction and say I think the church could be more the church now than ever. This is exactly what the church is for: to be there for people, to provide a living, breathing witness of the love of God and the stability (see above) that is uniquely His to provide. For those whose idea of church is a lovely weekly gathering of nice folks just getting nicer while sipping coffee, I’ve got news: as good as that may be, the church lives its purpose during a crisis in a way that it cannot – or typically does not – during times of relative ease. We’ll be okay without our weekly face to face gathering for a few weeks – we’ll survive I’m certain. But will we provide help or encouragement for a neighbour or a workmate, or perhaps provide a relational bridge for anyone near us to actually know Jesus? That’s a far more intriguing question than when’s the weekly worship service gonna start up again?
God’s mission has a church, not the other way round. The mission – to make living, dynamic relationship with Jesus accessible to those who don’t know Him – is primary and eternal; it’s fundamental, not an optional extra. Think of it this way: the church is as much church scattered as it is when it’s gathered. In the book of Acts the believers in Christ were driven out of Jerusalem under persecution and that’s when things really started to happen. Acts 8.4 says those who had been scattered spread the word wherever they went! The impact of those believers who lived out their faith, scattered, during a horrific persecution, was incalculable; the result, according to the Apostle Paul, was that faith in Christ was being proclaimed throughout the whole world. That mission continues today.
The impact of your life, and mine, is also immeasurable if we’re pursuing God’s mission. In the same way that cases of Coronavirus multiply exponentially, so can the influence of one life committed to the purposes of God in this generation. The impact of that life – yours or mine – is massive.