March 23, 2020

Modern-day Exile

The Lamentations of Jeremiah open with these words: How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become. I thought of that when I was alone in our church building at 10 AM yesterday. This was the second Sunday we'd suspended worship, with no end in sight. I know our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have already announced that they won't be gathering on Easter, and we'll probably be following suit.

I often think of the empty sanctuary on Sunday morning as a building awaiting its church. And so it seems a bit sad that the building—which has served us so loyally for nearly 150 years—waits in vain. But the church is still the church. The body of Christ is alive and praying and serving in every corner of our community. And we are not alone in finding new ways of being the church during this extraordinary period of exile from our buildings and from each other. I have faith that, just as IsraĆ«l was brought back from Babylonian Exile with a deeper understanding of what it meant to be God's people, so will we.

Yes, the Prophet Jeremiah lamented the destruction of Jerusalem, but he also warned his people not to try to end their exile prematurely (see Jeremiah 29:8-14). There's a lesson for us in his message. We can best serve God and our neighbors by staying apart right now, for there is blessing in seeking the welfare of our communities and praying for our neighbors, regardless of our similarities or differences. I believe it is God's will that we protect the most vulnerable among us (watch this brief video to see how that works), and so our time apart is necessary for those who take Christian ethics seriously.

But more than simply doing our duty, I pray that our modern-day exile will be filled with prayer, meditation, and serious attention to who we are, Whose we are, and how we can better express our faith in a world that is hurting.

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