If any group of people is going to be angry at God for the COVID-19 pandemic it should be Christians. Here is very earliest description of life in a Christian community. It comes from the second chapter of Acts:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:42-44, ESV)
There is so much that the early Christians were doing that would be unwise in today’s conditions: fellowship, breaking of bread, having all things in common. So much for social distancing. Were face masks even invented back then?
Yet fellowship, eating together and having things in common are essential to Christianity. Every church throughout history has tried to pattern itself after this first church. It’s no wonder churches have been identified as places where the COVID-19 virus could spread exponentially. So we have had to shift all our worship services online and get very creative with serving people in person.
Here is another passage from Scripture that reflects what is described in the book of Acts:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)
In a normal year many Christians would have gathered last Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, to celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. It is a time to focus on Jesus as our Good Shepherd who lays down his life for us, his sheep. One of the things we are always reminded of on this Sunday is that, when it comes to sheep, gathering is good, scattering is bad. The Good Shepherd is working constantly to keep his sheep together as one:
“As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered.” (Ezekiel 34:12, ESV)
Gathering for fellowship, sharing, and eating together were not the only things the early Christians were doing. They were also devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Fortunately for us, the apostles that Jesus had personally instructed and trained were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down what they taught. Their writings were gathered together in a group of 27 books that we call the New Testament so that today we can know what they taught.
As Peter puts it so eloquently in the tenth chapter of Acts:
“And he [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43, ESV)
And again from Peter in his first epistle:
“He himself [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (I Peter 1:24, ESV)
Throughout history, Christians have used every means available to spread this message among throngs of worshipers, one on one among friends and family, through radio and television, and now, through the internet.
Without this message of Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness that the apostles taught us there would be no reason to gather for worship, to have fellowship, to eat together, to have things in common.
But because of this true and wonderful message, when bad things happen we don’t get angry with God. Since God gave his own Son to redeem us by dying on the cross, how can we think he does not loves us? Instead, we stop and think, “What is God doing here?” “Why is God allowing this virus to prevent us from doing things that are essential to our faith?”
We remember that God has provided us with modern conveniences like phones, television and the internet that have enabled us to stay somewhat connected. Although it’s best when Christians can gather together for worship, God is pleased when his people – still in their pajamas in some cases – sit down with their family at home with a cup of coffee and a doughnut to participate in their church’s prerecorded or live-streamed worship service.
And although our current conditions are not ideal, at least in this country we still have the freedom to worship God. In many countries this is not so.
Prayer was also an important feature of that first church and is still important today. It could well be that, thanks to this pandemic, God is hearing from a lot of people he hasn’t heard from in a while. That’s okay. He’s still listening and always will be. And there is no way we are going to get through this pandemic without regular, persistent prayer.
Fellowship, eating together, and having things in common may not be deemed essential in the eyes of the world but they are essential to the sheep that belong to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We may be scattered and unable to gather now for a little while but eventually we will be gathered together in an endless, in-person, virus-free celebration of the love and mercy God has lavished on us in Jesus.