Dear CME Family,
It is not President Trump’s job to tell God’s churches when or how or why to worship. That is not any President’s or secular leader’s job. We agree with President Trump that worship is essential, and we urge him and all who lead us in the secular domain and in God’s churches to practice and model good worship. But we are also admonished by the Scriptures to be careful to not do the things that may harm our brothers and sisters.
Sheltering in place (if we can) while this virus is not decreasing is an act of love. Wearing a mask when we must go out is an act of love. The pride of being able to worship within our church buildings pales if, in that pride, people can be endangered and die. Google the Holy Ghost Catholic Church of Houston, Texas, or the name of Rev. Mark Palenske. People became infected and some died who worshipped with them. The Houston case is a few days ago; the case of Reverend Palenske, in Arkansas, was mid-March.
On this Ascension Sunday (the day we lift up in celebrating the victory of Christ’s resurrection completed by His ascension into heaven), I am reminded that Jesus – and Jesus alone – is Lord of God’s Church. So while we offer our national leader the respect of his office, he does not dictate when or where or how God’s churches should worship. We whom God has chosen to lead God’s people must act responsibly on behalf of God’s people.
Unfortunately, I believe we are evidencing in the United States the overwhelming influence of political and economic winds that dare to put the economy and the election and the pride of big church gatherings above the faithfulness in love, devotion, witness and service that God seeks from us.
Love was the first word of the four mentioned in the last sentence. I am reminded of the news clip that showed what seemed a self-filmed video of a bus driver who talked about how people would get on his bus and, in their talking, spit in his face, seemingly oblivious or uncaring that they had done so. Days after that video, he died of COVID-19.
Ruth Padilla DeBorst, a Latin American-born theologian who attended a weekly sharing in April gave us this prayer before we closed that day:
May we who are merely inconvenienced
remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our world, let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
Love considers the weaker ones among us before blasting ahead. Amid the bravado of those who defiantly refuse to mask themselves and cover their own spit – though we have been warned, again and again that wearing the mask protects others – Christians are called to choose to do the loving action rather than broadly demand our “rights.” True love is not measured simply by what you feel; true love is evidenced by what we choose to do (and not do).
Let us also choose to be faithful devotees and witnesses.
My usual Sunday ritual for many years has been to travel. Sunday is the day I visit the various churches of the episcopal district to which I’m assigned. I travel and I visit in worship somewhere, preferably a place I have not been before. It helps me get to know the people to whom I am assigned. But during this “sheltering in,” I’ve traveled by internet to places within and beyond the episcopal district I serve (and beyond the CME Church). I’ve witnessed a broad display of faithful believers in worship, and I’ve witnessed the ingenuity of people who have discovered new ways and extended methods and expressions of worship. The creativity has been astounding and overwhelming in beauty and in blessings.
As I sat to write this, my spirit was hearing Isaiah 30:15 –
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength,
But you would have none of it.’”
This Scripture should not be heard in isolation. It was Isaiah’s prophetic warning to those people in Judah who thought their only hope was to run to Egypt for a military alliance against the impending, invading foes. God was reminding them to seek God’s face, to repent and to trust God, and God alone.
Yes, the economy has suffered and will still suffer greatly. Yes, we miss our embraces and our “in one place” expressions of fellowship. Yes, this is a difficult time. But let us remember those who suffer or are at risk the most in this period and let us keep engaging in ways to keep them uplifted in our prayers and in the sharing of our financial gifts and deeds of service.
But if you, like I, are in an area where the Coronavirus numbers are still high or going up, do not “open up” as if we have overcome because that gives no consideration to the suffering communities in our midst; do not “open up” without any consideration of how you will sanitize your worship space, what sanitary aids will be available, whether you will require everyone to wear a mask, or how you will worship without the singing we love that we now discover “inhabits” the air around us longer than our talk (thus making it potentially more dangerous than speaking).
As for me and our house, though I love the Sunday travel, we will continue to travel by internet. We will worship. We will witness. We will give. We will serve. And I believe God will be pleased with us. And after all, God is the Judge who counts.
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick