Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. – Isaiah 26:20
The ER doors closed behind her and I returned to the truck, hoping it wasn’t the last time I’d see my wife. She not only had an already compromised immune system, but she also had every symptom of COVID-19 and we’d been sent to the hospital for her to be tested. The tell-tale raging fever, cough, shortness of breath, and headache signaled that she too was a likely victim of a menace which, only weeks before, none of us had even heard of. Now all I could do was wait. It was Sunday.
In the weeks prior, I’d noted the outbreak in China and, seeing the way it was spreading, alerted our Pastoral Team to make an immediate plan to move the church to Sunday worship in our network of small groups. I thought I had a handle on the situation… I didn’t. I don’t.
The truth is that everything in which we could possibly put our trust other than God is being shaken to its very foundations. As the Psalmist observed, ‘The earth totters…’ Financial systems, medical expertise, American ingenuity, scientific certainty, and especially ‘business as usual’ Christianity, were showing the fault lines of the colliding tectonic plates of disease on the one hand and our adamant refusal to grapple with its severity on the other. We preferred denial as a treatment. Surely our idols could stand up to the power of a virus.
Then the NBA suspended its season and everything started closing down in rapid succession. Sports and schools, commerce and pleasure, restaurants and retail outlets were shuttered – and we all woke up feeling like extras in a Stephen King film.
We have new and unexpected additions to our relational vocabulary now. “Shelter in place”, “Isolate”, and “Quarantine” have become the common descriptors for where we are in the COVID-19 era. This generation has never before experienced our government forbidding us gathering in large numbers for worship, moving us to discover the surprising graces God provides for his people passing through a wilderness of uncertainty and fear devoid of close fellowship.
“I’m afraid”, I hear. “I’m so lonely”, a member wrote to me today. “When will this end?”, I’m asked. Not even Dr. Fauci knows the answer to that question.
What I do know is that the earth is groaning, and we are too. And what will we make of this? We have to enter this mystery with faith. We have to trust that “Everything that can be shaken will be shaken” is certainly true, but only to reveal the hidden, often eclipsed reality of the unshakable Kingdom of God. We will learn again that the Church and the Christian are not exempt from the pain. We can, however, flee for refuge to the One who is our Mighty Fortress. As Isaiah wrote, there is a time for us ‘enter our chambers, shut our doors’, and wait until ‘the fury passes by.’ Why should we think that God would ask less of this generation than he has of our mothers and fathers?
That’s why Pastors are busy trying to figure out how to best point people we can’t visit to the only Mighty One able to save. We’re trying to feed the sheep, just as Jesus commanded, but like so many others who offer beautiful cuisine, the doors to the tables are closed. Now what? Maybe we aren’t needed either.
The Almighty and Unbounded God is not, however, confined by these sorrows of ours. He is in the storm, and his Angel is in the whirlwind. He spreads a table for us in this wilderness, granting us bread from heaven and water from the rock. I have to believe that he will show himself faithful and give to this generation a new testimony of his kindness in the fellowship of suffering, a gift different – and perhaps sweeter – than the one we receive in the fellowship of one another.
The phone rang a few minutes ago. It was the Medical Center. “Negative”, she said, “The test was negative.”
Despite having every symptom of the disease, my wife didn’t have COVID-19. We had to wait a while for the result…waiting is hard.
I think we’re going to have to wait a while for the result of this test we’re all going through. In the end, however, I believe that we will find that the Gospel is true, that God is faithful, and that His love endures forever. That’s a result worth waiting for.
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