18th March, 2020 – “the building is closed but the church remains active”
The picture above was taken on a lovely, Spring, Sunday morning in May, 2018. The tree to the left came down a few months ago in a storm, a portent perhaps of things to come.
The Eastminster Church building has been a place of activity, ministry, and worship for almost sixty-five years. This evening it is closed, locked up, silent, a situation imposed upon us by the coming onslaught of COVID-19. We look toward this coming weekend and, for the first time in our life-times, we will not be able to enter a place of worship. We look further forward and see the possibility that even Easter may not be celebrated this year. It is crazy, beyond belief, but I write to tell you that while the building may be closed, “the church” can remain active and well.
In the days after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the Jewish people were humbled. Many of the things that they associated with their religion were gone. The Most Holy Place, the temple was in ruins, their leadership was incaptivity, the people scattered to the four winds (the diaspora). Without temple, priests, and sacrifice, Judaism became less of a religion and more of a movement. It drew closer to “the Book,” or should I say the sacred scrolls that make up the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. Worship became less about sacrifice and more about prayer and living as God encourages in the Word.
In a sense “our temple” is gone, shuttered for a time that I expect to be months not weeks. What are we to do? The Westminster Confession says that the first job of human beings is to worship God. In the present situation, worship will be less communal and more individual. It will be less in the hands of a leader and more in the hands of the individual believer.
As your pastor, I encourage you to continue to worship even if it is not in a particular building. Become a person of the Word, a person of prayer, a person who communes with God. Together, let us set aside the time of our usual hour of worship on Sundays and spend time individually with God. This Sunday, I encourage you to read the passages for the day. From the Old Testament, 1 Samuel 16:1-13 about the anointing of David. Psalm 23, the familiar shepherd psalm. And, from the New Testament,Ephesians 5:8-14 in which Paul encourages the church to seek out all that is right and true. Read the Word slowly. Take it in. Ponder what it meant. Think about what it may mean for you and your life today. Pray. Take a few moments to ask God to forgive any misdeeds. Give thanks to the Lord for the gift of grace in Jesus Christ. Pray about the current situation, health care workers, guidance for our government and its medical advisors. Pray for Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark and other countries that are seeing many deaths this week. Pray about those things that are impacting your life. Pray for your family. Pray for the Church. You may want to add the Lord’s Prayer and then just sit, sit with God for a few moments in spiritual communion. The Church building may be closed but “the church,” the community of Christ, continues.
More on being the Church tomorrow.
Dr. David McMaster
Pastor, Eastminster, Belleville, ON