I’m honestly having a hard time with this whole online church thing.
This last Sunday, I watched our church’s Palm Sunday service. Seeing members of our worship band on the screen (six feet apart) was a blessing, but it definitely wasn’t the same as gathering in our building for corporate worship. My pastor gave a wonderful, powerful message, but watching him on a screen lacked the connection I am used to. It’s the best we can do in this season, but I still feel like I haven’t been in church for a month – because I actually haven’t.
Since I got saved in high school, my Christianity has included church services, small group Bible studies, prayer meetings, mission trips, conferences, and retreats. Gathering with God’s people makes up the bulk of my socializing, and I’d even call it my culture. But all of that has come to a halt, and it has been quite disorienting. And I know I’m not alone. When we are used to connecting with God in a certain way, the disruption in routine can be shocking to our whole relationship with Christ. While we know it’s not the case, many of us have felt as if the absence of corporate church, worship, and fellowship is the absence of God Himself.
So what will Easter Sunday be like without the lilies on the stage? Without little girls in new dresses and boys in starched shirts arriving to church with Peeps dust in the corners of their smiles? Without grandmas in hats, without ushers in ties, without the well-rehearsed full worship band, and without the polished pastor in his Sunday-best suit? It will just not be the same.
But perhaps the church actually needs a different Easter. Perhaps what the church needs more than anything this Easter is this stripping away of everything except the plain striking beauty of the empty grave and the risen Savior.
Could this time of forced separation from our faith communities actually be a disguised gift of reconnection to the direct access we have to God? Is the removal of religious routine a recipe for revival?
Perhaps we have become so dependent on our modern forms of worship that we have diminished the simplicity of connecting with Jesus through His word and through prayer.
We are used to being spoon-fed solid messages, led into worship by gifted musicians, and cheered on by other faith-filled Jesus followers. But what kind of Jesus followers are we when we have none of that? What does our Christianity look like when there is no one else around but the people we live with, or when we are totally alone? Most of us have never had to find out, but now we will.
Paul spent a total of five and a half years in either a prison cell or under house arrest, away from the congregations he loved so much. We can be sure that he did not spend his time binge-watching TV or mindlessly scrolling through social media like many of us have done these last weeks. With nothing but the scriptures and the Holy Spirit, Paul drew near to God and advanced His kingdom while in confinement. He labored in prayer, received visions and revelations directly from God, and wrote letters of encouragement that nourish our souls thousands of years later. Isolation made Paul a deeper follower of Jesus. Oh, to have even half of that fortitude and grit to pursue Christ and the furtherance of His kingdom in our present circumstances!
The truth is, I have the same scriptures and the same Holy Spirit available, but I often lack the self-discipline and motivation to pursue Christ on my own. I prefer to be a spoon-fed consumer who can conveniently grab what I need of God and go on with my easy life. I am a lazy Christian, and I don’t think I’m alone.
Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7) Asking, seeking, and knocking are all active verbs that require me to intentionally pursue Christ. It is surely how Paul spent his time in prison, and it’s what I am being challenged to do in my own season of confinement.
So I’m wanting to repent. I truly want to get to the end of this season having spent my time exercising the spiritual disciplines I’ve allowed to get out of shape. Because of the cross and the empty tomb, I have all I need to run this race of asking, seeking, and knocking with endurance. So do you.
So let’s allow the void of our normal forms of worship to bring us to a renewed understanding of the simplicity of the gospel and an increased pursuit of intimacy with Christ. In our time of isolation, may our appetites be increased for the foundational things of our own private faith – Bible reading, scripture memorization, prayer and worship. May His word become more precious to us as we read it for ourselves, and may we expect a more intimate understanding of the heart and mind of the Savior as we redeem the time we have been given in isolation.
This Sunday, I want the world around us to watch as God’s people proclaim that Jesus is worthy of our worship - because like our churches, the tomb is empty.