We are still the church, even in isolation

Easter 2A

In the name of Christ.  Amen.

Is it possible, that in the midst of this pandemic and season of physical distancing, we’re finally getting a little glimpse of what that first Easter might actually have been like?  I mean, we aren’t hiding away in fear of persecution for following a religious leader.  But there is something resonant for us in hearing about the disciples on that first Easter, hidden away behind locked doors to try to save their lives.

I’ve reflected on that with a number of people in calls and emails about how strange it feels to be worshipping behind locked doors when so much of our understanding about ourselves as Christians – and particularly as Episcopalians – is that everyone is welcome.  We say it right on our signs: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”.

But now, for a season, our doors are locked.  Michael and I are locked inside here.  You are safely tucked away in your homes.  We’re locked away to try to save our lives, and the lives of so many others.

I have to admit, that it makes me sad.  If we focus so much on our separation and solitude, it can be depressing.  And not just for those of us in the church – a very real concern in the midst of all of this is what some people are calling the “two pandemics”.  There is the pandemic of the coronavirus that everyone is talking about.  But there is also legitimate concern about a mental health pandemic.  We are social creatures, and to deny ourselves these opportunities for engaging with each other socially – even in previously benign ways that we took for granted, like going to work or restaurants or shopping…  To deny ourselves the social engagements that so deeply define our experience as people can and does have a serious effect.  It can lead to depression.  It can lead to anxiety.  We can allow ourselves to fall into obsessive behaviors.  Some people might become paranoid or consumed with fear.

The possible mental health effects of all of this are real and significant.  That’s why – from the very first day all of this started, something I’ve asked of everyone in this church is to take a few minutes every day to reach out to someone.  Send a text, or an email.  Pick up the phone.  Just do something to reach out to someone else – at least once a day, every day.  We have to be even more conscientious about connecting with one another during this time of disconnection, or we’ll lose each other.  We’ll lose the connections that make us a church.

And we have to reach out to each other, because this is hard.  People are suffering – and in the worst way: quietly, and alone.  We need to check in with each other, because you never know when something like that could literally save someone’s life.  And here’s the other secret – it’s not just about providing kindness to others.  We all need connection with others.  So reaching out will be beneficial to you, too.

Each week Bishop Hughes is holding a web conference with all of the clergy of the diocese.  We’re checking in with each other and trying to tend to the spirits of each other as best we can, but we’re also trying to be intentional about thinking about what this experience means for the church.  There are working groups getting together to talk about keeping church communications working right now.  There are groups working together to come up with best practices for livestreaming worship services.  Lots of things.  And one of the groups that’s working is trying to figure out how best to continue meeting our obligations as Christians when everything we know about how to be the church is being challenged.  How do we continue doing outreach, and serving those people who are suffering right now?

Well, there are certainly things we can do.  I know that a number of people in the church are making masks to give to healthcare workers and others who need them.  I know the knitting and crochet ministry is still working to produce blankets for sick children, even though we don’t know when we’ll be able to collect them all.  And though we can’t personally prepare a meal for St. Paul’s this month and personally be there to deliver and serve it to the men in the shelter, we’re still sending a monetary gift so that they won’t go hungry.  We’re still collecting money for our outreach grants to food pantries and North Porch.  So much of what we do every day as the Body of Christ here in this region is still happening.

But while everyone is trying to figure what more we could do – what additional ways we could be living into our vocations as Christians – remember that it doesn’t have to be huge.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or come up with one magic, all-encompassing solution for all the problems of the world.  Your way of doing more could be as simple as picking up the phone.  It could mean the world to someone who is lonely or alone.  It could mean the world to someone who is struggling to make sense of all this.  You don’t even have to have the answers.  You just have to be there for them as they explore the problem.  It could literally save a life.

I know it’s hard to think about “being the church” in a day and time when we are, by necessity, so separate.  But remember the story of the disciples huddled together in the locked house on that first Easter.  Even though they were afraid – even though they were isolated – Christ still found them.  Christ was still in the midst of them.  They thought their world was ending.  They thought that everything they believed had died.

But even in that locked room, they found Christ.

So don’t think that there’s nothing you can do as a Christian when you’re locked away.  Christ is still with each of us.  And we have so many ways of reaching people and being the hands of feet of Christ in the world that no one has ever had before.  We are blessed beyond our imagining.

So don’t fall asleep.  Use this moment.  It may not be all that we’d hoped it would be, but it is what we have.  And God can always use what we have, even when it feels like very little.  Amen.