This Just In: Coming Together Again
William M. Cwirla
By the grace of God, many of our congregations have begun, or are planning to begin, gathering again for Divine Service. Some in urban areas are still waiting patiently on the Lord; others have been able to open again for worship. Local health restrictions can have a noticeable effect on our gathering. We may not be able to sit as close as we once did, or shake hands or hug, though Lutherans traditionally have been good at "social distancing" long before it was required. We may not be able to sing as freely as we would like. The Sacrament may not be distributed in quite the same way as to which are accustomed. We may be asked to wear masks in church. Coffee and doughnuts probably won't happen. But we will be together again at long last. Thanks be to God!
So What Does This Look Like?
What should we be thinking about as we prepare to return to our gathered congregations? The apostle Paul gives us a good framework in his letter to the Philippians: "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV).
Paul is speaking to those who are in Christ, baptized believers who share the mind of Christ and His humility. We are servants of the Servant of all, the One who bends down to wash His disciples' feet and who laid down His life to save the world. We have the mind of Christ; now it's time to think like Christ.
What does this mean for our return to church? Speaking as a pastor, I would say it means this: Be obedient to those who are over you; look to the needs of others.
Obedience is an act of humility; it crushes the pride of Old Adam. In our obedience, we are admitting that we don't know everything and we are not always given to decide what is best. We are all under authority—in church, at home and work, and in society. God has given us leaders in all three Orders—pastors, parents, and princes—and we are to obey them in love. They must give an account to God for the stewardship of their authority.
Threat of Division
Many things threaten to divide us these days. Everyone has his or her own opinions on virology and epidemiology, matters of economics and public policy, the best ways to manage a pandemic, and even whether or not there actually is one. We have all become self-educated experts and our own authority.
God has established order and authority for our unity and blessing. Things are taken out of our individual hands and put into the hands of those who lead and guide us. This is as true in church as it is in society and the home. We may have picked up a few disobedient habits in the past few months, and we need this biblical reminder: "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:17).
If your pastor says to wait a few more weeks before the church can open safely and responsibly, then wait a few more weeks. Don't go running off to some other church that decided to open early. You are a member of a body; support the body of which you are a member.
If the pastor says, "No singing in church," don't start belting out hymns at the top of your lungs. That's not faith but instead reflects self-centered pride and arrogance. Corporate worship is not up to the individual. You may not like it or agree, but in obeying the authorities God has put over us, we remain together as one, whether speaking or singing.
If your pastor asks you to wear a mask in church, then wear a mask even if you think it's dumb or an infringement on your liberties. It's not for you but for others. There are people who are afraid, people who are weak, people who are vulnerable. Think about them and leave your personal opinions and politics at the church door. Let the strong take care of the weak.
Subordinate your needs to the needs of others. Look out for the interests, health and well-being of those around you. If you live with Grandma or Grandpa, if there are people in your home who are vulnerable or weak, you might be hesitant to come back to church. That's an act of humble submission to others. You yourself may be afraid to come to church with so many people gathered together. Continue to pray and worship at home and ask the church to come to you instead.
There will be empty pews, more than you are used to. Remember your brothers and sisters in Christ who are not able to gather with you in those pews. Pray for them. Church isn't a mall or grocery store where you go to stock up for yourself. Church is the visible Body of Christ gathered around the Word and Sacrament to be the gathered Body of Christ. We are there for each other.
Return and Rejoice
Return to church with thanksgiving. Hopefully, we all have come to recognize what a privilege it is to be able to gather. Many of our fellow believers throughout the world are forced to meet in secret and fear. Thank God for the privilege of gathering freely and openly as a congregation.
Return to church repentantly. This is not a time of triumph. The church has a duty to intercede and to model repentance. God disciplines us through sword, plague, and famine. He seeks our repentance, turning from our idols to Him. This time of isolation has hopefully revealed some of our personal idolatries as so many things we loved have been taken away—sports, celebrities, culture, entertainment, shopping, parties. Only Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. And it is this same Jesus Christ who is with us in His gifts of Word and Sacrament, no matter what fears or frustrations we encounter.
"Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster" (Joel 2:13).
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, as well as president emeritus of Higher Things.
This Just In: Where was God?Foundations: For You and for AllFoundations: What's Jesus Doing??Speaking of Faith: Wimpily Weak, Imbecilicly Foolish, and Incredibly EffectiveSpeaking of Faith: The Irony of Being "Lutheran"Foundations: Dying and Rising from AboveHelpful Things: I Have a Confession to MakeDebunked: Gnonsense about Jesus Having a WifeFlex: Coming Down from the MountaintopUnder the Cross: The Surreal LifeMusica Sacra: "All Christians Who Have Been Baptized"Digging Deeper: Why?Reflections: May 31, 2020Reflections: June 1, 2020This Just In: Coming Together Again
Reflections: June 2, 2020Under the Cross: Living in the Light of ChristReflections: June 3, 2020This Just In: Countering Chaos with ChristReflections: June 4, 2020Dean's List: Jesus Ain't Done YetVideo Short: The Athanasian CreedLive Bible Study: June 4, 2020Reflections: June 5, 2020Debunked!: The Unreachable CarrotLive Bible Study: June 5, 2020Live Bible Study: June 6, 2020Reflections: June 6, 2020Reflections: June 7, 2020Reflections: June 8, 2020Video Short: June 8, 2020Foundations: You Are What Jesus Says You AreHymnal 101: June 9, 2020Live Bible Study: June 9, 2020Reflections: June 9, 2020Under the Cross: Baptized, Not GayVideo Short: June 9, 2020Reflections: June 10, 2020Foundations: Preface and Proper PrefaceVideo Short: June 10, 2020Reflections: June 11, 2020Speaking of Faith: How to Defend Infant Baptism and Have Fun Doing ItVideo Short: June 11, 2020Live Bible Study: June 11, 2020Reflections: June 12, 2020Video Short: June 12, 2020Foundations: No You-Gotta with JesusLive Bible Study: June 12, 2020Reflections: June 13, 2020Reflections: June 14, 2020Reflections: June 15, 2020Video Short: June 15, 2020This Just In: The Real EnlightenmentLive Bible Study: June 15, 2020Live Bible Study: June 16, 2020Reflections: June 16, 2020Helpful Things: Spilling the Tea on Generation ZVideo Short: June 16, 2020Video Short: June 17, 2020Reflections: June 17, 2020Live Bible Study: June 17, 2020Foundations: Your Father's LoveReflections: June 18, 2020Video Short: June 18, 2020Live Bible Study: June 18, 2020Dean's List: You're Covered on Judgment DayReflections: June 19, 2020Video Short: June 19, 2020Debunked: I Don't Think This Verse Means What You Think It MeansLive Bible Study: June 19, 2020Live Bible Study: June 20, 2020Reflections: June 20, 2020Reflections: June 21, 2020Reflections: June 22, 2020Video Short: June 22, 2020Under the Cross: Hope in Suffering, Not Apart from ItLive Bible Study: June 22, 2020Foundations: Better Than BulletproofReflections: June 23, 2020Video Short: June 23, 2020Speaking of Faith: Tell What Jesus DidVideo Short: June 24, 2020Reflections: June 24, 2020Live Bible Study: June 24, 2020Reflections: June 25, 2020Musica Sacra: College Hymn FailVideo Short: June 25, 2020Live Bible Study: June 25, 2020Reflections: June 26, 2020Digging Deeper: By Design: Creation and RedemptionVideo Short: June 26, 2020Reflections: June 27, 2020Live Bible Study: June 26, 2020Reflections: June 28, 2020Live Bible Study: June 29, 2020Reflections: June 29, 2020Video Short: June 29, 2020Under the Cross: The First Time I DiedVideo Short: June 30, 2020Foundations: Can, Cannot, and VocationHymnal 101: Church SeasonsReflections: June 30, 2020
Reflections: July 1, 2020Digging Deeper: Mixing It Up with Religion and PoliticsLive Bible Study: June 30, 2020Video Short: June 30, 2020Live Bible Study: July 1, 2020Live Bible Study: July 2, 2020Dean's List: Your Permanent RecordReflections: July 2, 2020Video Short: July 2, 2020Debunked: Enough Isn't EnoughReflections: July 3, 2020Reflections: July 4, 2020Reflections: July 5, 2020Reflections: July 6, 2020Video Short: July 6, 2020Under the Cross: Beautiful, Heartbreaking WorldVideo Short: July 7, 2020Live Bible Study: July 6, 2020Flex: Christ's Cancel CultureReflections: July 7, 2020Speaking of Faith: Third Article EvangelismReflections: July 8, 2020Live Bible Study: July 7, 2020Video Short: July 8, 2020Live Bible Study: July 8, 2020Video Short: July 9, 2020Under the Cross: The Sophia Worthy of ReceptionReflections: July 9, 2020Live Bible Study: July 9, 2020Helpful Things: Get Your Youth Talking!Reflections: July 10, 2020Video Short: July 10, 2020Reflections: July 11, 2020Live Bible Study: July 10, 2020Reflections: July 12, 2020Reflections: July 13, 2020Video Short: July 13, 2020Digging Deeper: Approaching Feminism with the Mind of ChristLive Bible Study: July 13, 2020Musica Sacra: Hymns Are for ProclamationReflections: July 14, 2020Video Short: July14,2020Video Short: July 15, 2020Live Bible Study: July 14, 2020Foundations: Stand by MeReflection: July 15, 2020Live Bible Study: July 15, 2020Dean's List: Your Vote Is a Gift for your NeighborReflections: July 16, 2020Video Short: July 16, 2020Live Bible Study: July 16, 2020Debunked: The Truth about Jeremiah 29:11Reflection: July 17, 2020Video Short: July 17, 2020Reflections: July 18, 2020Reflections: July 19, 2020Video Short: July 20, 2020Reflections: July 20, 2020Foundations: The Life You Now LiveReflections: July 21, 2020Video Short: July 21, 2020Foundations: Heaven on Earth TogetherLIVE BIBLE STUDY: July 21, 2020Speaking of Faith: The Curious Case of AgnosticismLive Bible Study: July 22, 2020Reflections: July 22, 2020Live Bible Study: July 20, 2020Video Short: July 22, 2020Video Short: July 23, 2020Reflections: July 23, 2020Under the Cross: Pushing Back with CompassionLive Bible Study: July 23, 2020Video Short: July 24, 2020Digging Deeper: SpiriligiosityReflections: July 24, 2020Live Bible Study: July 24, 2020Reflections: July 25, 2020Live Bible Study: July 25, 2020Reflections: July 26, 2020Live Bible Study: July 27, 2020Flex: Lutherans on FacebookReflections: July 27, 2020Video Short: July 27, 2020Video Short: July 28, 2020Foundations: CrucifloodLive Bible Study: July 28, 2020Reflections: July 28, 2020Video Short: July 29, 2020Speaking of Faith: Campus ChristianReflections: July 29, 2020Live Bible Study: July 29, 2020Dean's List: Baptized, Ready to DieLive Bible Study: July 30, 2020Reflections: July 30, 2020Video Short: July 30, 2020Video Short: July 31, 2020Debunked: The End Times--Still All About JesusReflections: July 31, 2020