44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
~ Matthew 25: 44-45
There is a debate raging between politicians and religious leaders in the USA as to whether houses of worship should be reopened. Our Canadian context is quite different from that of our neighbours to the south, yet there is something to affirm and learn from the debate and conversation as it speaks to our identity as Christians and particularly our identity as “church.”
You see, some Christians are claiming that it is a violation of their religious freedoms that their churches must remain closed during a pandemic. Theologians and scholars argue, instead, that the church was never closed. Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in an interview yesterday with CNN affirmed, “the church was never closed.” She shared stories of how churches, instead, are worshiping, praying and singing in online worship services. The doors may have been closed to in-person worship, but churches are out in their communities to provide food and water, spiritual support and pastoral care to those in need while maintaining physical distancing.
Further, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II asserts that “Houses of worship are not essential, but true worship is: ‘When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty, did you give me a drink? When I was a stranger, did you invite me in? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When I was sick and in prison, did you visit me?’”
It is true worship that is essential. But true worship is not located solely in a building. While we miss our spaces of worship, and the places where we gather most often as the people of God, let us not forget that the “church” is you and me. The church is the people. The church is you and me inside and, especially, outside of the walls of the church building, in ministry and mission for and with and in the world.
God of mercy and grace, you remind us that we are the church whether we are in a building or not. We are still the body of Christ, gathered by the Holy Spirit in all times and places. You call us to follow and send us outside of our buildings to carry out the ministry, the true worship, the essential worship of loving our neighbours. Strengthen our efforts in these days to care for others, those known to us, those who are strangers, so that all may have enough of what is needed to live and thrive, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.