3 Things I Hate About COVID Church (or Why Every Sunday Is Like Christmas)
1. We have to sit in household clusters separated by at least 6 feet.
This fulfills our state’s COVID-safety requirements. But it also highlights one reason we shouldn’t normally sit so far from each other at church: We are family members, not audience members. If we’re simply audience members, then it makes sense to maintain a self-protective distance from others who happen to want to sing the same songs or listen to the same sermon. But we gather on Sundays as brothers and sisters—a blessedly uncomfortable reality! Since God’s grace has made me part of Christ’s household, I must intentionally move closer to my siblings in Christ, even if it means threatening their comfort and relinquishing mine.
Since God in his grace is forming Christ in his children, he plans to grow his family up together into living life as Jesus lived it—marked by commitment and compassion. In other words, sticking with and being for God’s family. Sundays afford us the opportunity to draw near to each other. And in that way God makes every Sunday like Christmas.
After all, Christmas is the anti-social-distancing holiday. The Christian celebration of Christmas centers on the news that the Son drew near—and made himself vulnerable to all our diseases. He took on our infections so that we could be healed (Matt 8:17).
2. We have to wear masks and cover our faces.
For now, we’ve been wearing masks while we sing. We also wear them before and after each service. Masks are a tool designed to minimize risk to our individual bodies. But as with all tools, they have unintended consequences. These unintended consequences may have more of an impact on our overall health as a spiritual body than we realize…
Masks make it harder to understand each other. They make it harder to read emotions. They make it harder to show sympathy. They make it harder to know each other. In short, they make it harder to speak the truth in love…making the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph 4:15–16).
Faces are important!
The importance of faces is not a bug in the system of human relationships. God designed faces as a dynamic metaphor for his self-revelation. It’s no accident that when God pours out favor and love on his people it is described as turning his face toward them and letting his face shine upon them. And it’s no accident that a face-covering of sorts remains for those who haven’t been unmasked by the love of Christ and brought into the knowing-and-being-known freedom of life in him (2 Cor 3:14).
We are being renewed in Christ to see respect, acceptance, and love in each other’s faces. Sundays afford us the opportunity to do that as a family. And so God makes every Sunday like Christmas.
After all, Christmas is the anti-masking holiday. For 33 blessed years, the God of the universe revealed his heart in human voice, body language—and facial expressions. The mystery of the ages was finally unveiled in the Word made Flesh. When Christians turn our faces toward each other, we are emblems of God’s incarnate affection and attention. One day we will see his face. For now, we see him reflected in each other’s (2 Cor 3:18).
3. We have members “Zooming in” who used to gather with us.
Members who are particularly vulnerable or who aren’t comfortable being in a group setting yet are watching our live services via Zoom. It’s not ideal, to say the least, though we’re grateful for the option. The danger is that we might end up staying home because it’s easier, not because we’re afraid to get sick.
Yes, you can privately take in the words of the sermon on the internet. It’s good to want to hear the sermon! But it’s not good to think that’s basically all there is to church on Sundays anyway, whether in person or online. That’d be sort of (only sort of) like thinking a Zoom call with the quarterback to learn the plays is the same thing as showing up at the game. The main thing—the miraculous thing—that God’s doing at church on Sundays includes the sermon but it also includes the context: Every Sunday the God of grace dynamically speaks and works in and through the gathered people of God by various means that cannot be separated.
Obviously God can work in and sustain you, beloved Christian, apart from church. He is God Almighty! But that doesn’t mean we should choose to seek him or prefer to serve him in isolation from the church his saving might has created. The dynamic ministry of life in the body of Christ—punctuated by the weekly gathering—is the ordinary yet amazing way he has ordained to glorify himself and manifest his kingdom on earth.
My prayer is that we can stop the Zooming soon. Sundays afford us the opportunity to be in the physical presence of fellow citizens in a microcosm of God’s new creation kingdom, as Christ addresses his people through the Word. And so God makes every Sunday like Christmas.
After all, Christmas is the anti-streaming holiday. In a sense, God had been “streaming” his saving word to his people for a couple centuries (through miraculous, angelic and prophetic media of varying clarity. There were some super HiDef appearances, for sure!). But Christmas centers on the incredible news that the King made himself present in the flesh to establish once and for all his ongoing, unrestricted reign among his people. Though we are physically distanced from Christ now, he is Spiritually present in a real and special way when his gathered people—the temple-dwellingplace of the living God, the body of Christ—are physically gathered and engaged in corporate ministry and worship.
So—obviously we at BHOF haven’t taken an extreme stance. We still social distance and wear the masks and use the gift of Zoom, because we want to protect each other’s bodies from COVID.
But only if we are more concerned with protecting each other from temptation, from drifting, from unbelief, from isolation, from compromise, from praise-less-ness, will our body function healthily, to the glory of God.
Corporate worship is essential to healthy Christian living. We are not designed nor saved to thrive spiritually apart from the embodied gathering of God’s people. Technological communication is not a good substitute for physical presence. Which is why God sends his people—body and soul—into each other’s lives.
Christmas is about the incarnation. About God drawing near to us, about God knowing and making himself known to us, about God giving us himself in full embodied presence. Of course, the fullest gift was not just his birth but has come through his death and resurrection—the central focus of our Sunday gatherings! The best place to be reminded what Christmas means and made possible is to go to church every Sunday.