Upper Room Books has done a series of videos on how people find hope in this time of coronavirus. Honestly at first I didn't find hope. But the my congregation rose up to do great work at our Food Pantry. I find God in the people who do this work, and the people who donate, and the people who come to get food. Here is the video that I offered to Upper Room: Link.
Now is a time of staying home, staying safe. But for churches, part of our work is caring for our community. Our purpose is wrapped up in those we serve. I just wrote the book on relational food ministries (“Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Growing a Relational Food Ministry”), so I know social distancing is painful. I am learning a great deal as I lead workshops on adapting food ministries during the pandemic. Yet for me, for the churches I serve, our purpose is still finding ways to feed people who are hungry. We cannot stop now as we see the huge increases in the number of people who are hungry, unemployed and afraid.
I’ve asked churches how they have adapted to keep feeding people during the pandemic. First, they identify who they are serving. People who are food insecure and people who don’t have homes have different needs.
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The first surveys that came out to pastors asking “how are you doing” in this coronavirus age asked about what help we needed with worship. And during Lent, to not have worship seems, well, unimaginable. My church had just started a new Tuesday night dinner worship. That seems like an absurdity now. This week we are considering the unthinkable: how to celebrate Easter online. One of the kids at my church’s food pantry said to me, “maybe Easter will be canceled.”
Easter, I must remind you, I must remind myself; Easter happens every Sunday. That is why Christians worship on Sunday, instead of on the Sabbath. Because every Sunday Christ is Risen. Easter can’t be canceled—it can’t be stopped from happening every week. But that feeling that missing out on the brass quintet and the Alleluia’s and the Lilies and Tulips and Daffodils (the order form is on my desk) seems to mean we are missing Easter. The loss is real.
Easter is the point of church.
Easter worship is not the point of church. Worship, the music, the prayers, the bible readings and commentary, all of this is important, but is not the point of church.
In this time of physical distancing, of caring for our neighbors by staying apart, of struggling to figure out how to gather, worship, and connect through the internet, we have the opportunity to identify what is essential to be church. What is our why? What is our purpose?
The short answer to that is “Easter”. Resurrection. Proclaiming good news to the captives. Feeding the hungry. Caring for the sick. In the early church Easter was the beginning of the God’s rule on earth, and they celebrated it by gathering to eat together. By telling others the story. To get some sense of the trust that Christians had that God’s rule is already here, when plagues came the early Christians went into sick people’s homes to care for them. Death was no longer the ultimate threat. The early church worshiped by living lives of caring for others. By imagining a bounty so large it had to be shared. They imagined the Kingdom of God is here. Now.
Over time the daily meals and discussions morphed into a liturgy and a Christian practice of weekly worship was developed. Today, one of the important activities of the church is Sunday (or Tuesday, or Saturday, or Thursday) Worship. It is important, but it is not our purpose.
This Sunday, Easter Sunday, we will do exactly what the disciples did on that first Easter. We will hide in our homes. We may wonder if the story we are told is really true. We share doubts about the safety of our lives, but also some excitement and hope. We will wait to hear if there is more to the story.
And to live out our purpose as church this Sunday we must also ask: who longs for good news? Who is hungry? Who is captive? Who needs healing? To be the church we must go out and Easter the world around us—sharing the bounty of God’s rule with the world. The rest of the world will know about Easter if we live out the good news. When we say “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” we must mean by that the there is good news for those that are homeless, hungry, sick, for those that are in prison, in violent relationships, living with addictions and mental health challenges.
Worship helps, but our purpose is outside the building, in the world.
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.